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Doubts Persist on Indicators of Syria Chem Strikes

A Syrian rebel fires a heavy machine gun at government soldiers on Thursday in the city of Aleppo. Diplomats and independent experts have said Western evidence is not sufficient to confirm claims of sarin gas use by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center). A Syrian rebel fires a heavy machine gun at government soldiers on Thursday in the city of Aleppo. Diplomats and independent experts have said Western evidence is not sufficient to confirm claims of sarin gas use by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center).

It is impossible to fully confirm that Syria's government has conducted chemical strikes, due to problematic corroborating samples and insufficient public data about their collection and assessment, envoys and nongovernmental specialists told the Washington Post for a Thursday report.

A pair of U.S. insiders said an empirical review of numerous traces from months of alleged chemical attacks had informed last week's White House assertion that Assad's regime had employed sarin gas in the country's 2-year-old civil war, crossing "a red line" established by President Obama last year. The substances were collected by France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

A high-level Western envoy did not rule out the possibility that Syrian rebels had tampered with some sarin use indicators in a bid to prompt greater foreign intervention, but contended the preponderance of data is sufficient for a U.N. task force to render a verdict on the claims.

President Bashar Assad's government has yet to admit that team into the country, though, and any U.N. conclusions must be based on materials gathered directly by the organization's own inspections personnel. Arms specialists said any lingering sarin from the alleged strikes has likely broken down by now, potentially complicating the international investigation, should it move forward.

U.N. task force leader Ake Sellstrom is set next week to begin questioning Syrian health responders and others purported to have seen the sarin attacks or their victims. The individuals to be questioned are now in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army has said a multilateral chemical defense drill scheduled for next week is not intended as practice for possible actions in Syria by the United States, The Hill reported. French, Italian and Mexican armed forces personnel are expected to join the Army maneuvers at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

The CIA has received instructions to start establishing sites in Jordan and Turkey for providing weapons to Syrian opposition forces, according to the newspaper. A Senate bill submitted on Thursday would block the arms transfers, Reuters reported.

NTI Analysis

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