From Erdogan: Assad using chemical weapons in Syria at The Jerusalem Post:

Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that the regime of Syrian President Basher Assad has used chemical weapons in his fight against opposition forces, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported.

Is this claim that "the regime of Syrian President Basher Assad has used chemical weapons in his fight against opposition forces" based on decent evidence from unbiased sources?

I mean chemical weapons as in weapons of mass destruction, not tear gas and pepper spray.

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    What are you skeptical of, the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the use of chem. weapons by Assad's forces?
    – SIMEL
    Commented May 2, 2013 at 21:48
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    and define "chemical weapons". Tear gas is officially classified as one, so is pepper spray. By that definition most of the world's police forces use chemical weapons with surprising regularity.
    – jwenting
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 5:30
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    @IlyaMelamed I am skeptical of the statement "the regime of Syrian President Basher Assad has used chemical weapons in his fight against opposition forces".
    – user5582
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 6:54
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    @jwenting: The UN's Chemical Weapons Convention is the obvious source of the definitions when used in a military context. The convention doesn't prohibit their use by police forces outside of war, so that is less relevant.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 11:22
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    @jwenting: Yes, another definition could be used, but you requested a definition be provided and so I linked to the obvious one. Infringements against the convention are much more likely to trigger international condemnation and diplomatic action, which is why I think it is the relevant one.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 12:01

3 Answers 3


In short: The press was relatively cautious in reporting on this story. Finally (by June, 2013), limited ("small scale") use of sarin by the Assad regime against the rebels was confirmed by the US intelligence community. A lot is riding on the answer to this question at the moment (Western support for Syrian rebels for example), and I suspect it will be difficult to extricate facts from politics going forward.

Dan Roberts from the Guradian filed the following report on May 2, 2013:

Western intelligence agencies fear they can no longer prove for certain whether the Syrian government was responsible for alleged chemical weapon attacks, because initial samples and evidence trails have degraded over time.

Instead, Britain and the US are likely to have to wait for fresh evidence from further attacks before deciding whether to take a military response against the Assad government.

On May 6th, 2013 BBC reported:

UN's Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels 'used sarin.' Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said. Carla Del Ponte told Swiss TV that there were "strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof".

The BBC reported (April 23, 2013):

A senior Israeli military official has said Syrian forces have used chemical weapons against rebels several times. [...] He said photographs of victims foaming at the mouth and with constricted pupils and other unspecified symptoms "provide evidence that deadly chemical weapons have been used".

There has so far not been any confirmation that chemical weapons have been used during Syria's two-year-old conflict although there have been numerous accusations. [...] A UN team is waiting for permission from Syria to enter the country to investigate the claims.

On June 4th, 2013 Reuters reported:

The U.N. commission said it examined four reported toxic attacks in Syria in March and April but could not determine which side was behind them.

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used. It has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator," Paulo Pinheiro, who chairs the U.N. commission of inquiry, told a news conference in Geneva.

On June 13th, NPR reported:

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that an estimated 100 to 150 Syrians have been killed in attacks using sarin gas, although the figure "is likely incomplete." "Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year," Rhodes said in a statement. "Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information."

Barring further major developments contradicting the above, I consider this question resolved in the affirmative: according to reputable (American) sources Assad used chemical weapons against his opposition in 2013.

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    yes, if the jahidis use sarin and it blows back on them, they themselves get killed and no doubt use that as propaganda to claim that the government used it (and the same in reverse, though I'd venture that trained troops are less likely to make that mistake). And any evidence gathered after the fact can only show it was used and someone was killed, but not who used it.
    – jwenting
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 5:48
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    @jwenting: Big claim. Any evidence to support it?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jun 15, 2013 at 5:04
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    @AndrewGrimm how are you ever going to find out whether AQ, Hezbollah, Hamas, or some other dilute group hiding out in mountain caves had a few stolen grenades weeks ago? No, the only thing you can find out is that yes, the government has the infrastructure to produce the stuff.
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 5:19
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    @denten Whether the US intelligence community confirms something doesn't, as we already perfectly know, mean anything. You cannot possibly draw any conclusion from that. Their credibility at this point is comparable to that of a snake oil salesman. Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 13:46
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    @denten Nowhere in your answer do you support the claim that "U.N investigation had actually concluded this to have happened". What I was referring to was that you seem to post the opinion of the U.S intelligence community as proof of something. Yeah please update that answer. Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 10:56

There is a suspicion that Turkey was behind it, in an effort to trick the US into destroying Assad's forces. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker magazine reported on it. This is the same reporter who investigated My Lai and Abu Ghraib. It was ostensibly corroborated by testimony in Turkey. This stands against official conclusions to the contrary.


It's confirmed by the US government

This is only true to the time of writing (June 14th). At this point in time, the US government has acknowledged that the Syrian Regime is using chemical weapons in a limited way, and, because of this, will be arming the rebels:

The US has said it will provide military support to the Syrian rebels after confirming it believes there is concrete evidence of nerve gas attacks by government forces against rebel groups.

The assessment that limited attacks have taken place, based on CIA tests on blood, urine and hair samples from dead or wounded rebel fighters, is the first time Washington has supported claims made by British and French intelligence services in recent weeks. Assad has repeatedly denied using any chemical weapons in the bitter civil war.

Sources: The Guardian and NBC.

As the reported source for the data is the CIA, I doubt that we will see the original data in the near future.

The Russians, on the other hand claim that they have seen the evidence and don't find it convincing enough:

At the same time, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow is unconvinced that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against rebels in the country's civil war, according to Russia's state-run news agency RIA Novosti.

Presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow that the United States had shown Russian officials data and information on this score but that it was "unconvincing," according to the news agency.

"The Americans tried to show us information about the Assad's regime using chemical weapons. But if I have to be direct, what we saw does not look convincing to us," Ushakov is quoted as saying.

Source: CNN

Of course one should remember that Russia still has active trade relations with the Syrian and is still, even in this time, selling them weapon systems:

So the Russians have a strong incentive to not acknowledge that chemical weapons are used so as to not enforce an embargo of weapons on Syria.

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    and of course the US government hasn't been looking for a plausible excuse to arm Al Qaeda in Syria for weeks, just like the EU... If they really had that evidence they'd have published it and got the world to cry foul.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 9:07
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    @jwenting, what are the US's and the EU's incentive to arm Al Qaeda and other opposition groups fighting in Syria?
    – SIMEL
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 10:12
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    beats me, but they (and the EU) seem intent on doing just that, just as they did in Libya and Egypt. "Apeacement" probably, hoping that by appearing to support them they'll stop them thinking of the west as "the great evil", which is hopeless but common in the EU at least.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 13:08
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    This quickly degenerated to unreferenced political claims. Time to take it to chat.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 15:34
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    "It's confirmed by the U.S government." That's laughable. They don't really have a track record for being truthful nor impartial. Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 13:31

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