At least three chemical attacks were staged in Syria between April and August, a declassified French intelligence report claims, while President Bashar Assad said it was “illogical” for the government to launch a chemical weapons strike.
The declassified nine-page French intelligence report, issued by the country’s external and military services, suggests government forces loyal to President Assad were behind the attack, which took place on August 21 in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus.
The report alleges the strikes were directed from government-controlled areas to the east and west of Damascus and targeted rebel zones; the intelligence also describes “massive use of chemical agents” involved in the attack.
“Unlike previous attacks that used small amounts of chemicals and were aimed at terrorizing people, this attack was tactical and aimed at regaining territory,” government sources commented to Reuters.
The source added that since then Assad’s forces had subsequently bombed the areas to erase evidence of strikes.
Moreover, the report alleges the Syrian government staged at least three chemical attacks since April, according to AFP, including those in the towns of Saraqib and Jobar in April. Those attacks appeared to have killed about 280 people.
The report was published on the websites of the French presidency, the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry at 5 pm Paris time (7 pm GMT).
“We are going to give the MPs everything we have – classified until now – to enable every one of them to take on board the reality of the unacceptable attack,” French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Monday.
French President Francois Hollande has backed a call from US President Barack Obama for a military strike against the Syrian government as a punitive response to the Aug. 21 chemical attack. However, after Obama requested an authorization from the Congress, France said they do not intend to act alone and intends to create a coalition for intervention in Syria.
“It’s not for France to act alone. The president is continuing his work of persuasion to bring together a coalition without delay. This act cannot be left without a response,” PM Ayrault reiterated after presenting an intelligence report on Syria to lawmakers, his defense and foreign ministers, intelligence and security officials.
“France is determined to penalize the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s regime and to dissuade [further attacks] with a forceful and firm response,” Ayrault said. “The objective is neither to topple the regime nor to liberate the country,” he said, adding that only a political solution in Syria was possible.
Ayrault also said no vote was scheduled for Wednesday’s parliamentary debate on the Syrian conflict, as the government was sure that forces loyal to Assad were responsible for the suspected chemical attack. The French constitution doesn’t require a vote for the president to be able to authorize military action, Ayrault added.
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad has derided allegations from the West that his government was behind alleged chemical attacks in the country. He challenged the world to provide “the slightest proof” he had used chemical weapons against his own people, and questioned the logic behind such accusations.
“Supposing that our army wants to use weapons of mass destruction… Is it possible that it does so in an area that it is itself in, and where soldiers are wounded by these weapons, which UN inspectors noted while visiting hospitals in which they were treated. Where is the logic?” the Syrian leader said.
“We have challenged the United States and France to come up with a single piece of proof,” he told Le Figaro. “Obama and Hollande have been incapable of doing so.”