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Syrian rebels deny using chemical weapons

Tuesday - 5/7/2013, 10:01am  ET

Syria rebel fighter disputes use of chemical weapons

WTOP's J.J. Green reports

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Rebels now in spotlight

WTOP's J.J. Green reports

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WASHINGTON - The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria is "wrong" about reports the Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons, according to a rebel spokesman who accuses the organization of not being trustworthy.

"Absolutely it's not true and there is no clear evidence from them to prove what they're saying," said Free Syrian Army spokesman Abu Rami.

"People here are not confident anymore in the outside world, especially the organizations that say they're working to help the Syrian people."

Carla Del Ponte, a commissioner on the U.N. panel, stunned observers around the globe Sunday when she told Swiss-Italian Television that Syrian rebels may have used nerve gas.

"During our investigation for crimes against humanity and war crimes, we collected some witness testimony that made to appear that some chemical weapons were used, in particular (nerve) gas," she said. "What appeared to our investigation (was) that (it) was used by the opponents, by the rebels."

Her comments appeared to also catch fellow U.N. commissioners off guard and prompted a hasty statement from the commission's chair, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.

The commission "wishes to clarify that it has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict. As a result, the Commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time," the statement read.

Pinheiro repeated to all parties involved in the conflict "that the use of chemical weapons is prohibited in all circumstances under customary international humanitarian law."

Abu Rami, who is also a member of the Syrian Revolution General Commission, said the rebels tried to sound the alarm in 2012 that the Syrian government was using chemical weapons.

"We uploaded many videos that describe what happens to victims' eyes, their stomach and the wounds that appear on their skin," he said.

On the other side of the coin, late last month, the Syrian regime contacted the U.N. claiming that rebels had used chemical weapons near Aleppo. U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said "armed groups" had been observed spreading powder that he described as "a kind of chemical."

Ja'afari held a news conference at the time and claimed the rebels had orchestrated the use of chemical weapons and prearranged the transport of victims to Turkey for maximum media coverage.

The Obama administration is taking a very cautious, but doubtful view of Del Ponte's statements.

"We are highly skeptical of suggestions that the opposition could have or did use chemical weapons," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"We find it highly likely that any chemical weapon use that has taken place in Syria was done by the Assad regime. And that remains our position."

The U.S. administration has promised to help the rebels, but thus far their overtures have been characterized by the rebels as "not what we want."

"If you want to give us some kind of help, we need it to be useful," Abu Rami said. "If not, please don't say to the Syrian people and the world, 'We will help you.'"

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