France: 'All indications' Syrian regime is using chorine gas

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said it is very likely the Syrian army used chlorine gas in its six-year war with rebels. Paris' top diplomat warned Turkey not to add to the conflict with its Afrin onslaught.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told local broadcaster BFM TV on Wednesday that "all indications show us today that the Syrian regime is using chlorine gas at the moment."

It follows Tuesday's report by UN-mandated investigators that they were studying "multiple" allegations of recent chemical weapons use in the rebel-held zones of eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, and in the northwestern Idlib province.

The US has also stated that it has seen "obvious evidence" of recent gas attacks in the two areas.

"I'm weighing my words because as long as we haven't completely documented this we have to stay prudent," Le Drian said. "An investigation has been opened on that matter by the United Nations. The threat of using chemical weapons remains, this is a very serious situation."

Read more: As Syrian war nears end, some can never go home again

Earlier this month, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent war monitor, reported that several civilians were being treated for "suffocation" following a series of airstrikes on the rebel-held town of Saraqeb.

Syria had agreed in 2013 to give up its chemical weapons to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). However, both the UN and the OPCW have said the Syrian government has used sarin and chlorine gas weapons in the past two years, an accusation Damascus has repeatedly denied.

French red line?

Shortly after taking office last year, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that chemical attacks in Syria would constitute a "red line" for France.

However, when pressed on how France intended to respond to the allegations of chlorine gas use, Le Drian stopped short of advocating military retaliation.

Instead, he pointed to the so-called "partnership against impunity," a cooperation among 24 countries that ensures the perpetrators of chemical attacks are held accountable.

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Erdogan’s Offensive: Who Will Help the Kurds?

Iran and Turkey violating international law in Syria

Le Drian also offered France's most strongly-worded response yet to Turkey's involvement in the Syrian conflict.

While he said it was understandable that Turkey would want to protect its southeastern border to Syria, the French foreign minister stressed that "ensuring the security of its borders does not mean killing civilians and that should be condemned."

"In a dangerous situation in Syria, (Turkey) should not add war to war," he said, adding that international law "is being violated by Turkey, by the Damascus regime, by Iran and those who are attacking eastern Ghouta and Idlib."

Turkey launched its offensive, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, on January 20 with the stated aim of hitting positions held by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and "Islamic State" militants, although IS is not known to have a presence in Afrin.

Turkey views the main Kurdish militia as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency it has battled for decades. The United States, however, sees the YPG as the major force within the alliance of Syrian Democratic Force, a Washington-backed military group propped up to fight IS.

The onslaught has so far left around 15 Turkish soldiers and 120 YPG fighters dead. Just over 100 civilians have been killed since the campaign began.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

War with no end

Syria has been engulfed in a devastating civil war since 2011 after Syrian President Bashar Assad lost control over large parts of the country to multiple revolutionary groups. The conflict has since drawn in foreign powers and brought misery and death to Syrians.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The dictator

Syria's army, officially known as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), is loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is fighting to restore the president's rule over the entire country. The SAA has been fighting alongside a number of pro-Assad militias such as the National Defense Force and has cooperated with military advisors from Russia and Iran, which back Assad.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The northern watchman

Turkey, which is also part of the US-led coalition against IS, has actively supported rebels opposed to Assad. It has a tense relationship with its American allies over US cooperation with Kurdish fighters, who Ankara says are linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighting in Turkey. The Turkish military has intervened alongside rebels in northern Aleppo, Afrin and Idlib province.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The eastern guardian

The Kremlin has proven to be a powerful friend to Assad. Russian air power and ground troops officially joined the fight in September 2015 after years of supplying the Syrian army. Moscow has come under fire from the international community for the high number of civilian casualties during its airstrikes. However, Russia's intervention turned the tide in war in favor of Assad.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The western allies

A US-led coalition of more than 50 countries, including Germany, began targeting IS and other terrorist targets with airstrikes in late 2014. The anti-IS coalition has dealt major setbacks to the militant group. The US has more than a thousand special forces in the country backing the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The rebels

The Free Syrian Army grew out of protests against the Assad regime that eventually turned violent. Along with other non-jihadist rebel groups, it seeks the ouster of President Assad and democratic elections. After suffering a number of defeats, many of its members defected to hardline militant groups. It garnered some support from the US and Turkey, but its strength has been greatly diminished.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The resistance

Fighting between Syrian Kurds and Islamists has become its own conflict. The US-led coalition against the "Islamic State" has backed the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias. The Kurdish YPG militia is the main component of the SDF. The Kurds have had a tacit understanding with Assad.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The new jihadists

"Islamic State" (IS) took advantage of regional chaos to capture vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Seeking to establish its own "caliphate," IS has become infamous for its fundamentalist brand of Islam and its mass atrocities. IS is on the brink of defeat after the US and Russia led separate military campaigns against the militant group.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The old jihadists

IS is not the only terrorist group that has ravaged Syria. A number of jihadist militant groups are fighting in the conflict, warring against various rebel factions and the Assad regime. One of the main jihadist factions is Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which controls most of Idlib province and has ties with al-Qaeda.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The Persian shadow

Iran has supported Syria, its only Arab ally, for decades. Eager to maintain its ally, Tehran has provided Damascus with strategic assistance, military training and ground troops when the conflict emerged in 2011. The Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah also supports the Assad regime, fighting alongside Iranian forces and paramilitary groups in the country.

dm/ls (AFP, AP, Reuters)