Assad regime "undoubtedly" responsible for chemical attack - France

The gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed more than 80 people - including up to 30 children - on April 4th

Assad regime "undoubtedly" responsible for chemical attack - France

File photo, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, 06-04-2017. Image: SalamPix/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

France’s foreign minister has claimed that new evidence proves forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were "undoubtedly" responsible for a chemical weapons attack in the country earlier this month.

The gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed more than 80 people, including up to 30 children on April 4th.

The attack has been widely blamed on Syrian government forces - and prompted US President Donald Trump to order a cruise missile strike on one of the country’s airbases in retaliation.

The missile strike was the first direct assault by the US on the Assad regime – which is backed by Russia and Iran.

Chemical weapons production

According to a six-page report drawn up by French intelligence services, samples obtained from the impact strike on the ground contain elements of hexamine – a hallmark of sarin nerve gas as produced by the Syrian government.

Hexamine is used during the production process to remove certain by-products – including acids – that make the agent difficult to store and handle.

The Syrian government is known to possess the substance in its inventory and uses it in its chemical weapons production programme.

Assad responsibility

"The French intelligence services consider that only Bashar al-Assad and some of his most influential entourage can give the order to use chemical weapons," the report said.

It said that jihadist groups in the area did not have the capacity to develop or launch the attack – and stated that Islamic State was not present in the region.

It found that President Assad’s claim that the attack we fabricated was “not credible” – given the high number of casualties arriving into Syrian and Turkish hospitals in a short space of time following the incident.

It also cited the sheer quantity of online activity depicting people with sever neurotoxic symptoms.

Mr Assad last week questioned whether the attack happened at all, saying there are "a lot of fake videos now."

"We don't know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhoun," he said in an interview with AFP TV. "Were they dead at all?

Signature method

French Foreign Minister Jean Marc-Ayrault said the, “process of fabrication of the samples taken is typical of the method developed in Syrian laboratories."

"This method is the signature of the regime and it is what enables us to establish the responsibility of the attack.

“We know because we kept samples from previous attacks that we were able to use for comparison."

Earlier this month, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said "incontrovertible" test results by its team of experts probing the incident had shown sarin gas or a similar substance was used in Khan Sheikhoun.

Diplomatic relations 

The Kremlin said this morning that the French report does not provide enough evidence to establish who was behind the attack.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia's position on the attack remained "unchanged" and warned that "that the only way to establish the truth about what happened near Idlib is an impartial international investigation."

Earlier this month Moscow vetoed a UN Security Council resolution demanding a swift investigation into the attack – the eighth time Russia has used its veto to protect the Assad regime since the beginning of the civil war.

Meanwhile Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned that the US cruise-missile attack has damaged prospects for a political settlement to the civil war that has raged in the country since 2011.

Mr Lavrov told a security conference on Wednesday the US attack "pushes the prospect for a wide international front on terror even further away."