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MIDEAST > Turkish aid agency hints at use of sarin gas in Syria

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An activist wearing a gas mask is seen in Zamalka area, where activists say chemical weapons have been used by forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad in the eastern suburbs of Damascus August 22, 2013. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

An activist wearing a gas mask is seen in Zamalka area, where activists say chemical weapons have been used by forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad in the eastern suburbs of Damascus August 22, 2013. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

All sources indicate use of sarin gas in Syria, according to the president of the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), a body affiliated with the Office of Turkey’s Prime Ministry.

AFAD President Fuat Oktay hinted on Aug. 23 that sarin gas, an extremely poisonous chemical weapon that has been classified as a “weapon of mass destruction” by the U.N., appeared to have been used. Oktay, however, abstained from delivering an official statement.

“All the news and symptoms, within the framework of information we receive from our own sources indicate the sarin gas,” Oktay said, speaking at a joint conference along with the head of the Representative Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Turkey, Carol Batchelor; and the head of the Representative Office of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Turkey, Ayman Abulaban.

When asked whether they had witnessed any indication during their work at the border area that chemical weapons were being used in Syria, Oktay noted, “We have already guessed this long ago. We took the necessary precautions in our border cities.”

“The high possibility that sarin gas is being used was already reflected on the press. It might be wrong for us, as the AFAD, to make a statement that sarin gas has been used,” Oktay added.

Earlier this week, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said it was clear from television footage that chemical weapons had been used in an attack near the Syrian capital Damascus and telephoned U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to urge an immediate investigation.

Syria’s opposition accused government forces of gassing hundreds of people near Damascus by firing rockets that released deadly fumes over rebel-held suburbs, killing men, women and children as they slept. The Syrian government dismissed the allegation.

“Use of chemical weapons in Syria is evident from the footage coming from there,” Davutoğlu said in an interview with Kanal 24 television late on Aug. 21. “We have called for an immediate investigation by the U.N. teams.”

On another note, when asked whether the Peace and Democracy Party’s (BDP) allegations of discrimination in distribution of aid to Syria’s people that lefts out Kurds were well-founded, Oktay stated, “We have never discriminated on the basis of language, religion, race, sex. But I tell you this; we show the necessary sensitivity for a healthy distribution.”

The press conference came at a time when the U.N. said that the number of Syrian children forced to flee their devastated homeland had reached a million. “Turkey has not demanded help from anyone. And no one has helped Turkey,” Oktay said. “We hope that the world gets rid of this shame as soon as possible. We invite the international community to fulfill its responsibilities,” he added.

August/24/2013

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