As it seems to be as conspicuous in Western media as a brass band at a funeral, it’s worth drawing attention to the revelation that the UN’s Carla Del Ponte, who serves on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, says there is evidence that rebel forces have used sarin in the conflict.
Del Ponte told Swiss-Italian TV that there were “strong, concrete suspicions, but not yet incontrovertible proof” based on testimony from victims. In an interview yesterday, Ms Del Ponte, who is a former war crimes prosecutor, said: “Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals. 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. I was a little bit stupefied by the first indications we got… they were about the use of nerve gas by the opposition.”
Some independent commentators have speculated some groups could conceivably have got hold of stocks of sarin when storming government facilities (or they may have been provided with chemical agents through the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan). Del Ponte admits that looking at the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not part of her remit, but hopefully the testimony her team collected will now be passed on to the separate UN team of weapons inspectors.
Her comments bring the propaganda being peddled by Western politicians into some sort of perspective. The perpetrators of the chemical strike in the Damascus suburbs should be brought to account, but if we have any doubts over culpability we run the risk of punishing the wrong side.
Furthermore, any Western support for the rebel forces against Assad could lead to the very real danger of the beleaguered country falling into the wrong hands. Keen as we should be to help the oppressed people of Syria, it beats me why we would want Islamist extremists led by al-Qaeda to triumph.