* Other elements will be needed to determine chlorine use
* Paris examining 14 samples of potential gas use
PARIS, June 5 France said on Thursday samples it
had collected suggesting Syrian government forces had used
chlorine gas in the country's civil war may not prove to be
conclusive and would need to be cross-checked with other
information to determine its use.
The Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons
(OPCW) has opened an investigation into the alleged chlorine
attacks, more than a dozen of which have been reported since
April 11 in several areas.
France, one of Assad's fiercest critics, was the first
Western power to provide non-lethal military aid to rebels. It
has been a vocal critic of United States policy on Syria since
President Barack Obama backed down from launching air strikes
following suspected chemical attacks last year.
Syria agreed to hand over its entire chemical weapons
stockpile after hundreds were killed in a sarin gas attack near
Damascus. But Assad has denied using chemical weapons.
In a daily briefing to reporters, French foreign ministry
spokesman Romain Nadal said Paris, which has been examining
about 14 samples for several weeks, would continue to do so in
coordination with other nations.
"Given that ... chlorine which is widely used for civilian
purposes is very volatile, the results of the analysis may not
necessarily prove to be conclusive, (and) will need to be
complemented with other information," Nadal said.
A French diplomatic source said among complementary
information being studied was communication between Syrian
officials, pieces of debris suspected to have been used in
launching chlorine gas and medical evidence from people reported
to have been affected by a gas.
"If there is no smoking gun, you need to put all the pieces
of the puzzle together," said the source, adding that Paris was
working with its main allies United States and Britain on
building an exact picture of what happened.
Another alleged chlorine attack took place on May 22 the day
that Russia and China vetoed a French-drafted resolution to
refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court
for possible prosecution of war crimes and crimes against
Chlorine is likely to be less lethal than sarin but its use
as a weapon is illegal under a global chemical weapons
convention signed by Syria.
Its use would also breach the terms of a deal last year
between Washington and Moscow, itself now weeks behind schedule,
aimed at ridding Syria of its chemical arsenal.
Syria did not declare chlorine as part of its stockpile,
further complicating the action to rid Assad of chemical arms.
"We must increase our pressure on the Damascus regime and
its backers to put a definitive end to the chemical threat that
it places on its population," Nadal said.
(Reporting By John Irish; editing by Ralph Boulton)