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Britain joins France in saying nerve gas used in Syria

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(Read caption) Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad carry their national flag as they walk along a street in Qusair, Wednesday. Britain has joined France in declaring that sarin nerve gas has been used by Assad's forces in the Syrian civil war.

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• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Britain has joined France in declaring that sarin nerve gas has been used in the Syrian civil war, though it did not go as far as France as to accuse President Bashar al-Assad's regime of deploying the chemical weapon.

The British Foreign Office said today that it had found the presence of sarin in several samples from Syria, though it did not specify where the samples were acquired or whether the rebels or the Assad regime used the nerve agent, reports the Independent.

Britain has evidence suggesting a number of different chemical agents have been used, "sometimes including sarin, sometimes not," said Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Mark Lyall Grant.

The British statement follows a stronger claim by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who on Tuesday said the French government had proof of sarin use and there was "no doubt" that the Assad government's forces deployed the agent, reports France 24.

“There is no doubt that it’s the regime and its accomplices” that are responsible for the use of the gas, Fabius announced on France 2 television.

“All options are on the table,” he added. “That means either we decide not to react or we decide to react including by armed actions targetting the place where the gas is stored.”

Mr. Fabius did not offer proof that President Assad's forces used sarin, however. Prior to his television appearance, his ministry stated that it was "certain" sarin had been used, but did not attribute the use to either faction.

France 24 adds that the samples were smuggled out of Syria by reporters from the French newspaper Le Monde, and came from two locations: Jobar, just inside central Damascus, and Saraqib, near the northern city of Idlib.

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France and Britain recently secured legal clearance from the EU to supply conventional weapons to the Syrian rebels, after the EU arms embargo against Syria lapses at the start of the month.

The two nation's statements add to a growing sentiment in the West that chemical weapons are in play in Syria. Yesterday, a UN commission on the civil war stated that there were "reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used," according to Paulo Pinheiro, the commission's chair. Mr. Pinheiro added that the UN was not able to determine "the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator," however.

The White House continues to preach caution on the topic however, the BBC notes. Asked about the French report yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that "we need to expand the evidence we have, we need to make it reviewable, we need to have it corroborated, before we make any decisions based on the clear violation that use of chemical weapons would represent by the Syrian regime.

The Associated Press adds that Russia appears unmoved by the evidence so far of sarin use. US officials said that a delegation sent to Moscow last month with the government's "best evidence" of chemical weapons use by Assad regime forces were not able to convince their Russian counterparts to change their support for Assad.

Reuters reports that Brigadier General Mustafa al-Sheikh, a Syrian army defector, says that Syria's chemical weapons agency is currently run by one of Assad's top advisers, national security chief Ali Mamlouk, but "effective control of the weapons is becoming fragmented."

Sheikh said the arsenal is now in the hands of chemical weapons-trained loyalists of Assad's Alawite clan, a Shi'ite offshoot sect, and is being used for limited attacks that have killed dozens of rebels.  

"Most of the chemical weapons have been transported to Alawite areas in Latakia and near the coast, where the regime has the capability to fire them using fairly accurate medium range surface-to-surface missiles," Sheikh said.  

Some chemical munitions remain in bases around Damascus, and have been deployed with artillery shells. "It is a matter of time before fairly large warheads are used," he said.

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