04/18/2013 06:05 pm ET

Syria Chemical Weapons: Britain, France Reportedly Inform UN They Believe Chemical Weapons Were Used

Britain and France have reportedly informed the United Nations that they believe there is evidence that chemical weapons have been used in the conflict in Syria.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official told the Washington Post that both countries addressed their concerns in letters to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon. According to the Post, the letters state that evidence suggests chemical weapons were used in and around the cities of Aleppo, Homs, and possibly Damascus.

The European letters come in the wake of mutual accusations by the Syrian regime and opposition fighters. Each side claims that the other fired a rocket with chemical agents in the town of Khan al-Assal, near Aleppo, back in March.

The UN has deployed a team of investigators led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom to the region to probe the claims, but the mission has faced one hurdle after another. The team was first held on Cyprus because of safety concerns and is currently still waiting for authorization to enter Syria.

In addition, Reuters explains that while the team is ordered to scientifically investigate whether chemical weapons have been used, it is not mandated to find out who is behind the attacks. And as the AP notes, while the UN wants to investigate several sites, Syria has insisted that the probe be limited to the incident in Khan al-Assal.

France and Britain had earlier expressed similar concerns in a letter sent to EU foreign representative Catherine Ashton. According to Reuters, the text noted: "The crisis is increasingly threatening regional stability ... and we are increasingly concerned about the regime's willingness to use chemical weapons."

The United States has repeatedly stated that the use of chemical weapons is a "red line" in the conflict.

According to UN estimates, more than 70,000 people have died in the conflict in Syria since March 2011, while more than one million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries.



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