French intelligence services will soon provide proof that Syrian President Bashar Assad's military used chemical weapons in an attack this month that killed scores of civilians, majority women and children, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Wednesday.
The estimate came as the head of the global chemical-weapons watchdog said laboratory tests had provided "incontrovertible" evidence that victims and survivors of the April 4 attack in northern Syria were exposed to sarin nerve gas or a similar banned toxin. Thus, the criticism that Assad continues to launch air strikes, from the base we hit or from elsewhere, misses the point.
Another expert, John Gilbert, a senior science fellow at the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said that the general's estimate is "fully possible" if two chemicals that produce sarin when combined-fluorine-phosphorous and isopropyl-were part of the undeclared stockpile. The chemical weapons were shipped outside Syria and destroyed overseas, with the most toxic material disposed of at sea aboard a US ship.
The attack in Syria prompted the United States to launch its first military strike on the Syrian regime in the six-year war, causing a major rift between Washington and Moscow.
The missile strike was the first direct U.S. military action against Assad's forces since the start of Syria's civil war six years ago and precipitated a downward spiral in ties between Washington and Moscow.
The draft decision, seen by AFP, calls for an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) "to establish whether chemical weapons were used in Khan Sheikhun and how they were delivered to the site of the reported incident" - even though an official probe is already underway.
Assad's government denies using chemical weapons against its own people, despite its involvement in a 2013 sarin attack which is believed to have killed more than 1,000 residents of the rebel-held Damascus suburbs.
Dan Kaszeta, a United Kingdom -based chemical weapons expert, said the Israeli estimate appeared to be conservative, but nonetheless was enough to be highly lethal. "It could also be used for roughly 10 attacks of a similar size to the recent Khan Sheikhoun attack". Inquiries confirmed the attacks at Ghouta back in August 2013 released sarin on a relatively large scale, but the perpetrators have never been formally identified.
The findings supported earlier testing by Turkish and British laboratories.
The aircraft in question reportedly were moved to an airfield close to a base where the majority of Russian air forces helping the Assad regime are located.