Evidence Collected Shows Syrian Rebels Used Deadly Sarin Nerve Gas, U.N. Official Says

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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United Nations human rights investigators have collected evidence that Syrian rebel forces used deadly sarin gas, a U.N. official said Monday.

The chemical weapon sarin is a colorless, odorless nerve agent. In 1995, 13 people died and 50 were injured on the Tokyo subway when sarin gas was released in a terrorist attack by the cult Aum Shinrikyo. Attacking the nervous system, death from sarin usually occurs by asphyxia, when muscles used to breathe become paralyzed.

The U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria later issued a press release that it was not prepared to comment further on the allegations because it "has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict."

U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon began the investigation into chemical weapons use in the Syrian civil war, which started in March 2011 with anti-government protests seeking to remove the Socialist Ba’ath Party from power. President and Regional Secretary Bashar Hafez al-Assad took over in 2000, succeeding his father who ruled Syria for 30 years before his death.

Commission member Carla Del Ponte said they do not currently have any evidence that Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons.

"Our investigators have been in neighboring 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 Italian in an interview with Swiss-Italian television.

"This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities," she added.

Spokesman for the Rebel Free Syrian Army, Louay Almokdad, said the rebels do not have unconventional weapons.

"In any case, we don't have the mechanism to launch these kinds of weapons, which would need missiles that can carry chemical warheads, and we in the FSA do not possess these kind of capabilities," Almokdad said.

"More importantly, we do not aspire to have (chemical weapons) because we view our battle with the regime as a battle for the establishment of a free democratic state. ... We want to build a free democratic state that recognizes and abides by all international accords and agreements -- and chemical and biological warfare is something forbidden legally and internationally."

The Obama Administration said it has “varying amounts of confidence” that sarin has been used by the Syrian government forces. “We do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime,” the White House wrote in an April 25 letter to Congress. “Thus far, we believe that the Assad regime maintains custody of these weapons, and has demonstrated a willingness to escalate its horrific use of violence against the Syrian people.”

Since the start of the civil war, 70,000 have died and 1.2 million refuges have fled.

Sources: CNN, Huffington Post