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Syria

Germany confirms past chemical deliveries to Syria

Germany approved deliveries of more than 100 tons of chemicals to Syria between 2002 and 2006 that can be used to make sarin gas, or for nonviolent civil purposes. Left- and right-leaning coalitions both did so.

The German government on Wednesday answered a formal request from the socialist Left party, confirming that successive German governments approved deliveries of chemicals to Syria that can be used to make sarin gas.

"The permits [for delivery of the chemicals] were granted after a thorough examination of all potential risks, including the dangers of misuse and redirection with a view to possible use in connection with chemical weapons," the German economy ministry said in its response to the official request, adding no cause for concern was identified.

The chemicals delivered included hydrogen fluoride, ammonium bifluoride and sodium fluoride, among others, chemicals typically called "dual-use goods" because they have both civilian and military applications. The Left party, Germany's most unswervingly pacifist party which has put up campaign posters saying "Hands off Syria" ahead of Sunday's national elections, criticized Berlin's decision to approve the deliveries.

"I cannot believe this at all. Germany delivered a total of more than 111 tons of chemicals to Syria that can be used to produce sarin – and this in a country that was known to have a chemical weapons program," Left party weapons expert Jan van Aken, a former UN weapons inspector, told public broadcaster ARD on Wednesday.

Merkel confident of civilian usage

Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview with public broadcaster ARD on Wednesday that the chemicals were most likely not weaponized.

"According to all the findings that are at my disposal, they were used for civilian things," Merkel said on the Tagesthemen program. Merkel also pointed out that all such exports to Syria were suspended in May 2011, shortly after the start of the civil war. Promising further investigation, Merkel said that "first findings" pointed to "no usage for the production of, for instance, sarin gas."

The deliveries took place between 2002 and 2003 under Gerhard Schröder's left-leaning Social Democrat and Green coalition and in 2005 and 2006 during Merkel's first term in a so-called grand coalition with her Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats.

Sarin gas was used in an August 21 attack near Damascus, according to a UN weapons inspector report published on Monday. The UN team was not allowed to investigate culpability, but western countries have blamed forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Wednesday that the government in Berlin also believes the evidence points towards Assad's regime. Syria, meanwhile, contends that the sarin gas was deployed by opposition fighters.

msh/hc (dpa, epd, Reuters)