France: Assad used poison gases three times this year
FORCES loyal to President Bashar al-Assad carried out a "massive and co-ordinated" chemical attack on August 21, one of "at least three" this year, a declassified French intelligence report has concluded .
The nine-page document, published on government websites, detailed five points suggesting pro-Assad fighters were behind the assault.
Satellite images showed strikes coming from government-controlled areas to the east and west of the Syrian capital and targeting rebel-held zones – areas that have since been bombed to wipe out evidence, the report concluded.
"The attack of August 21 can only have been carried out by the regime," it said.
"Unlike previous attacks that used small amounts of chemicals and were aimed at terrorising people, this attack was tactical and aimed at regaining territory."
About 47 amateur video clips reportedly filmed on the morning of the attack and showing the impact on civilians had been authenticated by French military doctors, according to the intelligence.
Video evidence alone showed that at least 281 people died in the attack but the real figure was more likely to be about 1,500, it said.
Other French evidence gave details of suspected chemical attacks, in the towns of Saraqib and Jobar in April, which now appeared to have killed about 280 people, the report said.
"We believe the Syrian opposition does not have the capacity to carry out an operation of such magnitude with chemical agents," it concluded.
Speaking after presenting the files to French MPs, Jean-Marc Ayrault, the prime minister, said "nobody can deny" the reality of the August attack and that President Francois Hollande was "continuing efforts to forge a coalition as soon as possible" against Syria.
French MPs will debate the Syria crisis tomorrow, although Mr Ayrault said there would be no vote.
The president's aides have made plain that France will not strike alone.
In Britain, a minister suggested yesterday that Parliament could be asked to vote again on military involvement in Syria if new evidence of atrocities by the Assad regime emerges.
Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, said a second Commons vote on the issue was a possibility if the situation in Syria changed "very significantly".
Downing Street said yesterday there were "absolutely no plans" to present the issue to the Commons again.
However, Westminster insiders believe that the government is leaving the door open to another vote after President Obama's decision to seek the support of Congress.
Mr Hammond told MPs: "We believe Parliament has spoken clearly on this issue and is unlikely to want to revisit it unless the circumstances change very significantly."
MPs rejected government backing for potential military action against Syria by just 13 votes last week.
Syrian ambassador to the UN Bashar al Ja'afari said the US must "play its role as a peace sponsor" rather than "a state that uses force against whoever opposes its policies".
Nato's secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen yesterday said he was "personally convinced" that the Assad regime had carried out the poison gas attack in Damascus.
Bashar al-Assad yesterday challenged the West to provide "the slightest proof" that he used the weapons on his people.
In the Syrian president's first response to claims that his forces killed more than 1,400 people in a gas attack, he said any Western military intervention could lead to "regional war" and would harm "the interests of France".
"Whoever accuses must provide proof. We have challenged the United States and France to provide the slightest proof," he said.
"Obama and Hollande have been incapable of doing so even to their own people," Assad told the French newspaper, 'Le Figaro'. (© Daily Telegraph, London)