French Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault,Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.(AFP Photo / Jacques Demarthon / SANA)
At least three chemical attacks were staged in Syria between April and August, a declassified French intelligence report claims, while President Bashar Assad said it was “illogical” for the government to launch a chemical weapons strike.
The declassified nine-page French intelligence report, issued by the country’s external and military services, suggests government forces loyal to President Assad were behind the attack, which took place on August 21 in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus.
The report alleges the strikes were directed from government-controlled areas to the east and west of Damascus and targeted rebel zones; the intelligence also describes "massive use of chemical agents" involved in the attack.
“Unlike previous attacks that used small amounts of chemicals and were aimed at terrorizing people, this attack was tactical and aimed at regaining territory," government sources commented to Reuters.
The source added that since then Assad’s forces had subsequently bombed the areas to erase evidence of strikes.
Moreover, the report alleges the Syrian government staged at least three chemical attacks since April, according to AFP, including those in the towns of Saraqib and Jobar in April. Those attacks appeared to have killed about 280 people.
The report was published on the websites of the French presidency, the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry at 5 pm Paris time (7 pm GMT).
"We are going to give the MPs everything we have – classified until now – to enable every one of them to take on board the reality of the unacceptable attack," French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Monday.
French President Francois Hollande has backed a call from US President Barack Obama for a military strike against the Syrian government as a punitive response to the Aug. 21 chemical attack. However, after Obama requested an authorization from the Congress, France said they do not intend to act alone and intends to create a coalition for intervention in Syria.
"It's not for France to act alone. The president is continuing his work of persuasion to bring together a coalition without delay. This act cannot be left without a response," PM Ayrault reiterated after presenting an intelligence report on Syria to lawmakers, his defense and foreign ministers, intelligence and security officials.
"France is determined to penalize the use of chemical weapons by Assad's regime and to dissuade [further attacks] with a forceful and firm response," Ayrault said. "The objective is neither to topple the regime nor to liberate the country," he said, adding that only a political solution in Syria was possible.
Ayrault also said no vote was scheduled for Wednesday’s parliamentary debate on the Syrian conflict. The French constitution doesn't require a vote for the president to be able to authorize military action, Ayrault added.
Assad slams ‘illogical’ accusations of chemical attacks
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad has derided allegations from the West that his government was behind alleged chemical attacks in the country. He challenged the world to provide “the slightest proof” he had used chemical weapons against his own people, and questioned the logic behind such accusations.
“Supposing that our army wants to use weapons of mass destruction… Is it possible that it does so in an area that it is itself in, and where soldiers are wounded by these weapons, which UN inspectors noted while visiting hospitals in which they were treated. Where is the logic?” the Syrian leader said.
“We have challenged the United States and France to come up with a single piece of proof,” he told Le Figaro. “Obama and Hollande have been incapable of doing so.”
“Anybody who contributes to the financial and military reinforcement of terrorists is the enemy of the Syrian people. If the policies of the French state are hostile to the Syrian people, the state will be their enemy,” Assad said, adding that the French people themselves were not enemies, but the French government’s policies were regarded as hostile.
“There will be repercussions, negative ones obviously, on French interests,” he concluded.
Assad said that any military action from the country would spark negative repercussions on French interests, calling the region a “powder keg.”
“The whole world will lose control of the situation. Chaos and extremism will spread. The risk of a regional war exists,” he said. Assad’s comments came before the French intelligence report was published.
UN chemical attack investigation
The samples collected by the UN chemical investigation team of the suspected chemical attack in Ghouta are to be examined by the Swedish Defense Research Institute in the northern city of Umea, said Ake Sellstrom, who leads the investigation, Russian media reported.
Sellstrom rebuffed assumptions that the samples were not reliable due to too much time having elapsed after the attack. He noted that the material was collected in a short time, so there is a good chance for accurate analysis.
"It is rarely possible to collect samples after such a short time," Sellstrom said. The Defense Research Institute says the analysis of samples brought back from Syria will take about two weeks. Some samples will also be studied in Finland.
The publication of the intelligence report follows Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s call for lifting the veil on all available information regarding the alleged chemical attack.
He added that the evidence provided by the US was not convincing, ‘nothing concrete, no geographical coordinates or details.'
Finally, he warned that a strike on Syria would lead to a huge increase in extremism and have the opposite effect to what the Western powers desire.
The Russian minister had previously warned that Western military action would sink efforts to organize a peace conference in Geneva.
"If the action announced by the US president – to the great regret of all of us – does in fact take place... it will put off the chances of (holding) this conference for a long time, if not forever", Lavrov said.
On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin labeled the idea that the Syrian government would use chemical weapons on its own people when UN inspectors were in Damascus as “utter nonsense.” The Russian President called the affair a “provocation” by Syrian rebels hoping to embroil Western powers in the conflict.
The Geneva conference which is due to take place in late 2013, is meant to bring the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad and the Syrian National Coalition, the two main opposing sides of the conflict, to the negotiating table in a bid to find a political solution to the crisis.