"Evidence" of Syria chemical weapons use not up to U.N. standard

Fri Apr 26, 2013 4:08pm EDT
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By Anthony Deutsch

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Assertions of chemical weapon use in Syria by Western and Israeli officials citing photos, sporadic shelling and traces of toxins do not meet the standard of proof needed for a U.N. team of experts waiting to gather their own field evidence.

Weapons inspectors will only determine whether banned chemical agents were used in the two-year-old conflict if they are able to access sites and take soil, blood, urine or tissue samples and examine them in certified laboratories, according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works with the United Nations on inspections.

That type of evidence, needed to show definitively if banned chemicals were found, has not been presented by governments and intelligence agencies accusing Syria of using chemical weapons against insurgents.

"This is the only basis on which the OPCW would provide a formal assessment of whether chemical weapons have been used," said Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the Hague-based OPCW.

With Syria blocking the U.N. mission, it is unlikely they will gain that type of access any time soon.

The head of the U.N. inspection mission, Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, will meet U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Monday.

The United Nations wrote to the Syrian government again on Thursday to push for unconditional and unfettered access for the U.N. investigators, Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters on Friday.

"The Secretary-General urges the Syrian government to respond swiftly and favorably so that this mission can carry out its work in Syria," Nesirky said. "You need to be able to go into Syria to be able to do that investigation properly."   Continued...

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L) and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu speak at a news conference at the OPCW in the Hague April 8, 2013. REUTERS/Michael Kooren