ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is stepping up chemical weapons tests on casualties arriving from Syria’s civil war to help ensure the perpetrators of any such attacks are held accountable, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday.
The United States has said it views any use of chemical weapons in Syria as a “red line”, hinting this could lead to some form of foreign intervention. But chastened by the false intelligence that was used to justify the 2003 war in Iraq, Washington says it wants proof before taking any action.
Turkey confirmed last week that it had begun testing blood samples taken from Syrian casualties brought over the border for treatment to determine whether they were victims of a chemical weapons attack.
Some Turkish newspapers said the forensic institute carrying out the tests had found traces of ricin, a highly toxic substance which can be used as a chemical warfare agent. But Davutoglu said it was too soon to draw conclusions.
“Examinations are continuing. When the final result is out, whatever that is, we will share this with the public and inform the relevant international institutions,” he told a news conference in Ankara.
The latest blood samples were taken from some 12 people from the Syrian province of Idlib who arrived at a border gate in Reyhanli in Turkey’s Hatay province with breathing difficulties, raising fears they had been victims of a chemical attack.
Davutoglu said Ankara had been carrying out such tests for a while but would now examine every patient that arrived from the fighting in its southern neighbor.
“We will carry out this examination on every casualty that arrives so that after Halabja nobody will dare carry out such a crime against humanity in Syria,” Davutoglu said.
An estimated 5,000 people died in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Halabja in 1988 in a poison gas attack ordered by then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the most notorious use of chemical weapons in the Middle East in recent history.
Turkey’s state-run Anatolian news agency said on Thursday a team of eight experts had been stationed at the Cilvegozu border gate in Reyhanli to test wounded victims arriving from Syria.
The civil defense team was equipped with a specialist vehicle which can detect evidence of chemical, biological and nuclear substances, Anatolian said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and opposing rebels have accused each other of using chemical weapons, and both have denied this.
Britain said on Thursday it believed it was “very likely” that the Syrian government had used chemical arms but that it had “no evidence to date” that the rebels had done so.
Last week a U.N. war crimes investigator said testimony from Syrian casualties and medical staff indicated that rebels had used the banned nerve agent sarin, although other investigators later played down those suggestions.
Davutoglu criticized such declarations made without evidence to support them. He had raised the issue with U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson in London this week, and said that as a Syrian neighbor, Turkey had the right to know if the United Nations had evidence of poison gas use by rebels.
Davutoglu said Eliasson had told him the assertion was groundless.
Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Ankara and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Editing by Nick Tattersall