France releases new, ‘undeniable’ evidence against Syria
PARIS -- France says it has evidence gathered by its intelligence services to prove “undeniably” that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces carried out a “massive and coordinated” chemical attack on its civilian population.
The French government released the evidence in a nine-page declassified document Monday evening to boost its calls for military intervention in Syria. The report in many ways dovetails with allegations made by U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
French President Francois Hollande has been a strong supporter of U.S. calls for a military response to the alleged chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21, and has rejected calls for a parliamentary vote on French participation.
The dossier against Assad’s government was released after a 2 1/2-hour emergency meeting of ministers and lawmakers called by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Monday afternoon.
It accused the Syrian government of using “extremely lethal” chemical weapons -- including those containing the deadly nerve agent sarin -- on several occasions to sow “terror” among civilian populations.
“These proven attacks have shown that the forces of Bashar Assad’s regime adapt their tactics and the munitions in their stocks with the aim of causing terror within the civilian population,” the French report said.
“The past events and the simultaneous and massive use of chemical weapons on the night of 21 August 2013 in the eastern suburb of Damascus thus confirm that the Syrian regime has deliberately crossed a line. Our services have information, from a [French] national source, leading us to believe that other actions of this nature could still be carried out.”
The attack on was a “massive and coordinated use of chemical agents against the civilian population,” it alleged, adding that evidence appeared to confirm an estimated 1,500 deaths.
The report cited evidence of “numerous children of a young age suffering violent symptoms (notably convulsions) at eight different sites” which it said “leads us to conclude that a staging or manipulation on the part of the opposition is unlikely.” The evidence also suggests the use of “extremely lethal” chemical weapons.
France said it has credible intelligence that after the chemical attack, Syrian government forces carried out heavy bombing and rocket attacks, followed by a land and air offensive aimed at holding up the arrival of United Nations weapons inspectors for several days and destroying evidence.
“These elements confirm a clear attempt to destroy the evidence. In addition, the military started fires, probably aimed at purifying the atmosphere through the movement of air,” the report stated.
It concluded only the Syrian government could have carried out the attacks.
“We believe that the Syrian opposition does not have the capability to carry out an operation of such size with chemical weapons. No group of the Syrian insurrection has, at this stage, the capacity to stock and use these agents, and certainly not of a similar size to that used during the night of August 21, 2013, at Damascus. These groups have neither the experience nor the savoir-faire to carry this out, especially not the delivery means used during the 21 August attack.”
After the meeting ended Monday evening, Ayrault, who had promised “total transparency” regarding Syria, told journalists the attack could not go “without a response.”
“France is determined to punish the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s regime and to dissuade him from repeating this by a firm and proportionate action,” Ayrault said.
The release of previously classified information was aimed at swaying public opinion. A poll in the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche on Sunday suggested 64% of the French public was against any military intervention in Syria.
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