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U.S. Withholds Judgment on Claim of Syrian Rebel Chem Strike

Syrian rebels run during combat with government troops on Tuesday in the city of Aleppo. The United States has yet to see any evidence of chemical-weapon attacks by opposition forces in the Syrian civil war, the White House said on Tuesday in response to a Russian forensic analysis (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center). Syrian rebels run during combat with government troops on Tuesday in the city of Aleppo. The United States has yet to see any evidence of chemical-weapon attacks by opposition forces in the Syrian civil war, the White House said on Tuesday in response to a Russian forensic analysis (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center).

The Obama administration on Tuesday offered a circumspect response to Russia's assertion that opposition forces in Syria were probably behind an alleged March 19 chemical-weapon attack in the Middle Eastern country's civil war, Agence France-Presse reported.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States had "yet to see any evidence that backs up the assertion that anybody besides the Syrian government has the ability to use chemical weapons, (or) has used chemical weapons." Washington last month announced plans to arm Syrian rebels, and it tied the decision to a finding that President Bashar Assad's government had carried out limited sarin nerve agent strikes in the conflict. Moscow is an ally of the Syrian leader.

Moscow has given U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon its 80-page analysis of the alleged March gas attack at Khan al-Assal, the Xinhua News Agency quoted Russia's envoy to the United Nations as saying on Tuesday. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said London, Paris and Washington would also receive the findings, the New York Times reported.

“This was like a cottage-industry product, manufactured at a simple facility,” Churkin said, noting Damascus had permitted Russian investigators to gather materials for the study from the alleged attack site.

The agent from the March incident “didn’t contain chemical stabilizers,” meaning it was "not a standard chemical charge,” Russia Today on Wednesday quoted him as saying.

The Russian conclusions received a brush-off on Wednesday from the rebel Syrian National Coalition, Reuters reported. "Only the Assad regime has the know-how, capability and willingness to use these weapons," spokesman Khalid Saleh said.

Churkin's U.S. counterpart on Tuesday said Washington had yet to receive the Russian document, "but we will certainly study it carefully when we do receive it."

Acting U.S. Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo said the Syrian government's new invitation for top U.N. officials to visit Damascus does not appear to have opened the door for international investigators to potentially examine other chemical attack claims in the country. To date, Damascus has only said it would allow inspectors to enter Syria if they limit their probe to the March incident.

"We support their investigating any and all credible allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria," DiCarlo told reporters in released comments.

Churkin, though, said the Assad proposal offers "a promising process" that might permit inspections to move forward, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, lawmakers overseeing British intelligence activities said there is "serious risk" that Syrian chemical arms "could fall into the hands of those with links to terrorism," the Press Association reported on Wednesday.

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Syria

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