Erdoğan: Assad forces used chemical weapons, not opposition
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said it is clear that chemical weapons were used by Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria and underlined the regime's superiority over the opposition forces in aerial attacks.
“We will discuss the issue of chemical weapons with US President Barack Obama during my visit to the US. It is clear that [chemical weapons] are being used by Assad's regime. The opposition outmatches the regime on the ground, but the regime uses chemical weapons, war planes and helicopters. Air is the only field in which the regime is ahead of the opposition,” Erdoğan told Nikkei, a Japanese daily, on Thursday.
Erdoğan's remarks to the Japanese daily were Turkey's first official confirmation that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons, and he pushed the international community to speed up the transition process in the war-torn country.
The Syrian government and the opposition blame each other for alleged chemical weapons attacks in Aleppo in March and in Homs in December. Syria wants the UN team to probe only the Aleppo attack, but a UN inquiry team tasked with investigating the alleged chemical weapons use wants the inquiry to cover both incidents. Syria denies using chemical weapons in the ongoing two-year civil war in which more than 70,000 people have been killed.
Stating that Assad's regime has been living its last days, Erdoğan said the international community should be responsible for expediting the transition period in the country.
On Wednesday, authorities in southern Turkey said they are testing blood samples taken from Syrian casualties brought over the border from fighting in recent days to determine whether they were victims of a chemical weapons attack.
The samples were sent to Turkey's forensic medicine institute after several Syrians with breathing difficulties were brought to a Turkish hospital on Monday in the town of Reyhanlı in Hatay province along the Syrian border.
"So far, I have not received confirmation from medical institutions, but there is a possibility that the weapons were used and we have to act with caution in this case," the mayor of Reyhanlı, Hüseyin Şanverdi, told Reuters.
On Tuesday, Obama said there was evidence that chemical weapons had been used during Syria's two-year conflict, but that it was not yet known how the chemical weapons were used, when they were used and who used them.
Washington has long said it views the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a "red line," but wary of acting on false intelligence, like what was used to justify the 2003 war in Iraq, it has said it wants proof before taking action.
Britain last week confirmed it had "limited but persuasive" information showing chemical weapons use in Syria, including the use of sarin -- evidence that the British Foreign Office says is "physiological" -- from the bodies of chemical attack victims.
Each side of the Syrian struggle has blamed the other for what they both said was a chemical attack in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib on Monday.