France to probe samples from Syria for sign of chemical arms

Francois HollandeFrench President Francois Hollande (Reuters)

French authorities will analyse samples brought back from Syria by two journalists after they reported the Syrian army was using chemical weapons against rebel forces, a top official said today.

There have been mounting reports of the use of chemical arms in Syria, where a bloody conflict has raged for over two years and claimed more than 94,000 lives amid reports of widespread rights violations.

A top French government official, who wished to remain anonymous, said today samples had been handed over to authorities by the journalists, without saying where the samples were from. "We have agreed to analyse them," he said.

The official added that, like the United States and Britain, France had already analysed its own samples and concluded that there were "clues but no formal evidence" of the use of chemical arms in Syria.

The two reporters from French newspaper Le Monde said they had "witnessed over several consecutive days" the use of explosive chemical arms and their effects on rebel fighters in the outskirts of Damascus.

Photographer Laurent Van der Stockt reported that on April 13 he saw fighters "suffocating and vomiting" in the village of Jobar outside the Syrian capital after an apparent attack using chemical weapons.

The journalists said they had gathered witness accounts of the use of chemical weapons in a large area around Damascus.

One doctor in a rebel-held area told the newspaper that the weapons caused breathing difficulties, headaches and nausea, and could cause death if victims were not treated.

"The gases are used on the front on an ad hoc basis, avoiding widespread use that would easily provide irrefutable evidence," reporter Jean-Philippe Remy wrote.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said yesterday there were indications of "localised use" of chemical arms in Syria, and the United Nations has called on Damascus to let in UN investigators.

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