Syrian and Kurdish rebel fighters walk in the majority-Kurdish Sheikh Maqsud district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 14, 2013. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
The use of chemical weapons in Syria is considered to be an international turning point, largely because President Obama has cited it as the "red line" at which "there would be enormous consequences."
For several weeks now, it has been reported that chemical weapons have been used in the country, though President Obama has said he will hold off on making any decisions until all the facts are known.
Many have assumed the weapons were used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, but now, U.N. investigators are saying their research actually indicates it was the rebels who utilized chemical weapons.
Reuters has the story:
U.N. human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria's civil war and medical staff indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said on Sunday.
The United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has not yet seen evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons, which are banned under international law, said commission member Carla Del Ponte.
"Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated," Del Ponte said in an interview with Swiss-Italian television.
"This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities," she added, speaking in Italian.
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. [Emphasis added]
This Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 file image provided by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows anti-Syrian regime activist Khaled Abu-Salah in front of flames from a bombed oil pipeline in Homs province, central Syria. (Photo: AP)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sarin was developed by the Germans in 1938. It can cause convulsions, paralysis, and respiratory failure leading to death within minutes, and "can easily and quickly evaporate from a liquid into a vapor and spread into the environment." This means "people can be exposed to the vapor even if they do not come in contact with the liquid form of sarin."
On Monday, chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army Saleem Edris flatly denied the claims to Al Jazeera, calling them a "huge injustice" and a "provocation" to the Syrian people.
A U.S. State Department official also told CNN that the U.S. government has no information indicating the rebels have "either the capability or the intent to deploy or use such weapons." They caution, however, that "the facts are not complete."
Both the rebel forces and Assad's government have alleged the use of chemical weapons by the other side throughout the two-year conflict, which is estimated to have left at least 70,000 dead.
The U.S. has placed itself firmly on the side of the Syrian rebels, donating roughly $250 million in humanitarian aid, and repeatedly calling for Assad to step down from power.