Vatican urges caution over Syria chemical arms claims

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - The Vatican on Thursday called for caution over opposition allegations that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in an attack in the suburbs of Damascus - a charge denied by the authorities.

"There should not be a judgment until there is sufficient proof," Mr Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent observer at the United Nations in Geneva, said in an interview with Vatican radio.

"What immediate interest would the government in Damascus have in causing such a tragedy?" he asked, adding that the real question was: "Who does this inhuman crime really benefit?"

Mr Tomasi also restated the Vatican's opposition to armed intervention in Syria, calling for negotiations "without preconditions" and a "transition government".

"Experience has shown with Iraq and Afghanistan that armed intervention does not bring any constructive results," he said, calling for an end to arms supplies to both the government and the opposition.

The Vatican diplomat also criticised the "incomplete analysis" of the situation in Syria and the Middle East as a whole being made by the media.

"We have seen how unconditional support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has led to more violence," he said.

He said there was also a clear division between "those who want a Sunni government in Syria and those who want to retain a participation by all minorities".

Many Christians in Syria have supported President Bashar al-Assad, seeing him as a guarantor of a multi-confessional state.

The Vatican is concerned about the rise in radical Islamism in the region and the exodus of historic Christian minorities in several countries.