France: Chemical Attacks Should be Met with Force

Foreign Minister says if reports that Assad used chemical weapons are verified the use of force is due – but not ground troops.

Gil Ronen ,

Girls who survived alleged gas attack
Girls who survived alleged gas attack

France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said in a television interview Thursday that the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad, if proven, should lead to the use of force by other countries against Syria – but he ruled out a ground invasion.

“If it is proven, France's position is that there must be a reaction, a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force,” Fabius told BFM-TV.

“There are possibilities for responding,” he said without elaborating.

He said, however, that there was “no question” of sending in ground troops, adding “it's impossible.”

Fabius said that if Wednesday's attack is confirmed, “I believe it cannot go without a reaction from those who believe in international legality”.

“If the Security Council cannot take a decision, at that moment decisions must be taken in another way. How? I would not go further,” he said.

UN Security Council members issued a statement in which they sought “clarity” on the alleged chemical weapons attack, but diplomats said the Council did not adopt a formal declaration because of opposition from Russia and China, which have for the last two years blocked any condemnation of their ally, Assad.

“The Russians must assume their responsibilities,” Fabius said.

In another interview to BFM-TV, a day earlier, Fabius said that a massacre by the forces loyal to Syrian president Assad had indeed been confirmed, but that it was not certain that chemical weapons had been used in it.

“We have two sets of reports,” he explained. “The first set of reports, which is certain, is that overnight and this morning Bashar al-Assad’s troops carried out a veritable massacre around Damascus; at any rate, several hundred people are dead.

“There’s another report that hasn’t yet been verified, which is that huge amounts of chemical weapons were used in those operations. As you know, there’s a UN mission currently in Syria to investigate previous events, so what France is asking – in liaison with the UN, of course – is for that mission, led by Mr Sellström, to be able to investigate on the ground immediately, because if there’s really been a massacre, it was carried out a few hours ago. If that were the case – it demands verification; I’ll talk to you about it more shortly, when I have more information – it would not only be a massacre but also an unprecedented atrocity. So in liaison with a whole series of contacts, I’m going to try to find out a little bit more, and in the evening I’ll be speaking to the President of the Syrian National Coalition, i.e. the resistance fighters, who has asked to talk to me.”

“We cannot accept massacres,” he said, “particularly involving the use of these extremely dangerous weapons – we’re talking about mustard gas, sarin, things that remind us of the horrors of war."

"The last time gas of this type was used on a massive scale was during the Iraq war, by Saddam Hussein," he said, in reference to the former Iraqi dictator's use of chemical weapons to massacre up to 5,000 Kurds in 1988.