A German military laboratory is reportedly analyzing evidence collected by UN inspectors in Syria to determine whether chemical weapons have been used in the civil war there, a German newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The Scientific Institute for Defense Technologies (WIS) in the small town of Münster, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of Hamburg, is the only large-scale German institute that researches defense against nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. The Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the institute had received samples of concrete and textiles collected in Syria to search for traces of poison gas.
There was no immediate confirmation of the report because the locations of the analyses were meant to be kept secret. However the WIS is one of several labs across the globe associated with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, one of the main collaborators in the UN investigation.
The investigation's mandate is limited to determining whether chemical weapons were used at all in Syria -- not which side in the war used them.
Putin Does Not Rule Out Military Action
The 20 UN inspectors arrived in Syria on Aug. 18, tasked with investigating three sites of alleged chemical weapons attacks. On Aug. 21, rebels reported a massive chemical attack east of Damascus that is believed to have killed some 1,400 people. The Syrian government has denied responsibility for the attack, but initially refused to allow the UN team to visit the site. Permission was finally granted five days later -- after the area had been massively shelled. Western nations accused the government of trying to destroy evidence of the chemical attack.
The full analysis of samples from Syria was initially expected to last up to three weeks. But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asked the team to speed up its work.
The United States has led international calls for an attack on Syria in retaliation for the alleged chemical attack. The greatest hindrance to those calls has been Russia, which has blocked any action against Syria in the UN Security Council.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that he would not rule out agreeing to military intervention in Syria if there were proof that Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons. However the limited mandate to the UN investigation means such proof could remain elusive. The United States and Great Britain have both partially released intelligence reports they say prove the Syrian government's guilt, but that evidence has been dismissed by Syria and its allies.
"We have no data that those chemical substances -- it is not yet clear whether it was chemical weapons or simply some harmful chemical substances -- were used precisely by the official government army," Putin said in an interview with AP and Russia's First Channel.