Syrian Kurds seek US-led coalition air cover


27 April, 2017

French intelligence services have concluded that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a sarin nerve gas attack on April 4 in northern Syria and that Assad or his closest entourage ordered the strike, a declassified report showed.

Ayrault, who had said a week before that he had proof that the regime was behind the attack, said the analysis of samples taken at the scene of the attack showed "there is no doubt that sarin gas was used" and that "there is also no doubt about the responsibility of the Syrian regime given the way that the sarin used was produced".

"Based on this overall evaluation and on reliable and consistent intelligence collected by our services, France assesses that the Syrian armed forces and security services perpetrated a chemical attack using sarin against civilians", the report says.

France's presidency said the country's intelligence services presented evidence showing the Syrian government "still holds chemical warfare agents, in violation of the commitments to eliminate them that it took in 2013". It said that information will be made public, without offering details.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Russian Federation would not change its position regarding the Khan Sheikhoun attack in light of the French assessment.

"These sweeping sanctions target the scientific support center for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilian men, women, and children", Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in announcing the action at the White House.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on April 19 that sarin or a similar banned toxin was used in the Khan Sheikhoun attack, but it is not mandated to assign blame. According to the French army, only the Syrian regime had helicopters so it had to be behind the attack.

"The Kremlin and President Putin still believe that conducting an impartial worldwide investigation is the only way to find out the truth", state-run TASS quoted Peskov as saying.

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Russian Federation has previously urged for an global probe, and Peskov expressed regret that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, has turned down the Syrian government's offers to visit the site of the attack and investigate.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are the U.S.'s main partner in the battle against the Islamic State group in northern Syria.

Lavrov told a security conference on Wednesday the attack was a pretext for a regime change in Syria and said the US response "pushes the prospect for a wide global front on terror even further away".

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said earlier on Wednesday Russia had to boost security measures at its air base in Syria after the airstrike.

Turkey says one of the Kurdish groups represented in the SDF is an extension of an outlawed insurgent Kurdish group within its own borders.

In an interview with the Washington Post this week, the former head of Syria's chemical weapons program said the orders to use sarin could only have come from the highest level.

In other developments, USA -backed Syrian Kurdish forces asked for the US -led coalition to provide air cover over northern Syria, to protect them from Turkish and Syrian government air raids.

Vasilyeva reported from Moscow.

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