SyriaU.S. sharply disputes UN official's claim that Syrian rebels used chemical weapons

Published 7 May 2013

The United States sharply challenged claims by a UN official – who is not a member of the UN investigative commission looking into to the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria – that the rebels, rather than the Assad regime, used sarin nerve gas near the city of Aleppo on 19 March. The UN investigative commission looking into the incident distanced itself from the official’s comments.

The United States yesterday strongly disputed a UN official’s claim that Syrian rebels, rather than the Assad military, may have used chemical weapons in Syria. UN officials quickly retreated from their initial suggestion even before the Obama administration made it clear that the UN claim had no basis in fact.

Reuters reports that on Sunday, Carla Del Ponte, who is not a member of the UN team looking into the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but rather a member of another UN panel – the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic – which is looking into the alleged human rights violations in Syria, told Swiss-Italian television there are “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” of sarin gas being used. She said it was “on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities.”

The White House minced no words challenging Del ponce’s claim.

The commission has not reached any conclusive findings. The fact of the matter is that we are highly skeptical that the opposition has used chemical weapons,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. “We find it highly likely that any chemical weapon use that has taken place in Syria was done by the Assad regime. And that remains our position.”

Fox News reports that Pentagon spokesman George Little also said, during a press briefing Monday, that there is no information to suggest the opposition used chemical weapons or would use them.

We strongly believe that if chemical weapons were used it would be by the regime,” Little said.

Fox News notes that the UN commission investigating the gas attacks was quick to distance itself fromDel Ponte’s comments in a written statement Monday. The investigative team said it “wishes to clarify that it has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict.”

The statement continued: “As a result, the Commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time.”

A U.S. official, speaking to the Washington Post on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter candidly, said: “We’re trying to get as many facts as possible to understand when and how such things were used. But our understanding has been that the armed opposition does not have such weapons . . . that they do not have such things in their arsenal.”