Home | Global News | Nerve gas still traceable, experts say of Syria attack

Nerve gas still traceable, experts say of Syria attack

PARIS – Traces of nerve agent would remain in victims for weeks, easily detectable if UN inspectors can examine people poisoned in last week’s suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, experts said Monday.

Toxicology and weapons specialists said a gas like sarin or VX would still be traceable in hair and tissue from human corpses and animal carcasses, the blood of survivors, and the site where the shells carrying the supposed nerve agent exploded.

Syria’s opposition claims more than 1,300 people died when regime forces unleashed chemical weapons on rebel-held areas near Damascus last Wednesday, and Doctors Without Borders said 355 people died of “neurotoxic” symptoms. The government vehemently denies responsibility.

“We are still within the time zone where if there was a sarin attack, for example, we should be able to acquire blood samples that then can be analysed in a laboratory outside of Syria, and where we would know for a fact afterwards whether sarin was involved,” said disarmament consultant Ralf Trapp, formerly a scientist at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. “It depends on how much freedom they (the UN inspectors) have to do what they want to do and how good their access is,” he told AFP.

UN experts headed to the site on Monday with the approval of Damascus, although their vehicle was deliberately shot at multiple times by unidentified snipers, a UN spokesman said. US officials have expressed fears that evidence of last Wednesday’s attack may already have been destroyed by continuing shelling of the area.

Footage distributed by activists last week appeared to show people foaming at the mouth while doctors give people oxygen to help them breathe and try to resuscitate unconscious children.

Alastair Hay, a toxicology professor at Leeds University in England and a former chemical weapons inspector, said the symptoms “point to a potent chemical warfare nerve agent like sarin,” whose victims could carry traces in their blood for up to six weeks.

“In the environment you would have even more latitude,” he said. “In an investigation I did in the Kurdish area of Iraq we found mustard gas and their breakdown products in soil taken from where the munition had exploded, and this was four years after they had detonated.” Sarin is an odourless, paralysing gas developed by Nazi scientists and used by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime to kill thousands of Kurds in 1988.

It kills by asphyxiation, and is widely believed to from part of Syria’s military arsenal. – AFP
Turkey says it would join coalition against Assad

Turkey says it would join coalition against Assad

ANKARA — Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says Turkey would take part in an international coalition to move against President Bashar Assad’s government if the UN failed to come up with sanctions to punish Syria for the alleged use of chemical weapons.

In comments published Monday in Milliyet newspaper, Davutoglu said Turkey’s priority is to act according to UN decisions, but the country would join a coalition if there is no UN mandate.

Davutoglu said “36 or 37” countries were already discussing options.

As one of the Assad government’s strongest critics, Turkey is backing the Syrian opposition and rebels.

Syria has denied that it used chemical weapons in an attack on rebel positions in a Damascus suburb last week that killed hundreds of people. – AP

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