05/06/2013 10:48 am ET Updated Jul 06, 2013

Syria's Chemical Weapons: UN Distances Itself From Claim That Rebels Used Sarin Gas

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GENEVA, May 6 (Reuters) - U.N. war crimes investigators have reached no conclusions on whether any side in the Syrian war has used chemical weapons, the inquiry commission said on Monday, playing down a suggestion from one of the team that rebel forces had done so.

Investigator Carla Del Ponte caught U.N. officials by surprise on Sunday when she said the commission had gathered testimony from casualties and medical staff indicating that rebel forces had used the banned nerve agent sarin.

"The independent international Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic wishes to clarify that it has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict," it said in a statement.

President Bashar al-Assad's government and the rebels accuse each another of carrying out three chemical weapon attacks, one near Aleppo and another near Damascus, both in March, and another in Homs in December.

Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney general who also served as prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, gave no details as to when or where sarin may have been used. She was speaking in an interview with Swiss-Italian television.

In comments posted in English on Monday, she repeated the assertion, saying that witness testimony made it appear that some chemical wepaons had been used.

"What appears to our investigation is that it was used by the opponents, by the rebels," she said. "We have no indication at all that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons."

The Geneva-based inquiry into war crimes and other human rights violations led by Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro is separate from an investigation of the alleged use of chemical weapons instigated by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Ban's office is still trying to negotiate entry into Syria to investigate and collect samples.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan)



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