France says watchdog's report on Syria proves sarin gas used in April attack

A man breathing through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017.
A man breathing through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS/MOSCOW (Reuters, AFP) - France said on Friday (June 30) that a report by the world's chemical weapons watchdog that nerve agent sarin was used in an April attack in Syria was "unequivocal" and that the organisation's members should act firmly on its findings, while Russia dismissed the report as biased.

The United States and its allies have accused the Moscow-backed Syrian regime of being behind the April 4 attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun, a claim Russia rejects.

"The conclusions of this report are indisputable," the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

"The OPCW and its members must assume their responsibilities and condemn, in the strongest terms, this intolerable violation of the non-proliferation regime."

Russia dismissed the report. “We must state that (the report’s) findings are still based on rather questionable data,” the foreign ministry in Moscow said in a statement.

“It is not surprising that the contents of the report by the special mission of the OPCW are in many ways biased, which suggests that political motivation is present in the actions of this organisation.”

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Thursday in a confidential report from a fact-finding mission that “sarin or a sarin-like substance” hit people in Khan Sheikhun.  The report, parts of which were seen by AFP, did not assign blame for the attack that killed at least 87 people including many children.  

The United States, France and Britain have accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of being behind the attack.  US President Donald Trump launched a retaliatory cruise missile strike days later against a Syrian airbase from where it said the chemical weapons attack was launched.

Moscow has rejected the suggestion that its ally Assad was behind the strike, saying the Syrian government has gotten rid of all chemical weapons.  Russia has suggested that rebel fighters were implicated in the attack and that the West is using it as an excuse to push for regime change in Syria.  It also criticised the OPCW for not sending experts to the site of the attack and vetoed a Western-backed UN resolution demanding that the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation.  

The Russian foreign ministry said it will “examine the report in detail” and give its full evaluation on July 5.  The report’s findings will now be taken up by a joint UN-OPCW panel to determine who was responsible for the attack.