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UN says rebels may have used nerve gas

Carla del Ponte (left) is a member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria Keystone

The United Nations has gathered testimony that suggests that rebels have used the nerve gas sarin in the Syrian conflict, Swiss prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has told Italian-speaking public television RSI.

UN human rights investigators, who interviewed victims and doctors, have indications that it was the rebel forces – and not president Bashar al-Assad’s government – which used the poison gas, Del Ponte said on Sunday.

“Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated,” Del Ponte said in the interview.

Del Ponte, a member of the independent commission of inquiry into war crimes and other human rights violations, said that so far there is no evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons, which are banned under international law.

The commission on Monday issued a statement distancing itself from Del Ponte’s claim, saying the body had “not reached conclusive findings” as to the use of chemical weapons by any parties. “As a result, the commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time,” it said.

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria with anti-government protests in March 2011 the conflict has claimed about 70,000 lives and forced 1.2 million Syrian refugees to flee. The government and rebels have been accusing each another of having carried out chemical weapon attacks over the past six months.

Sarin, a colourless, odourless liquid, is classified as weapon of mass destruction, the same category as biological and nuclear arms. The nerve agent can be fatal even at very low concentrations when inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Del Ponte, a 66-year-old lawyer from canton Ticino, has served as prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR