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Iran’s Rouhani acknowledges chemical weapons killed people in Syria

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani speaks with the media during a news conference in Tehran

DUBAI |          Sat Aug 24, 2013 8:43am EDT

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday for the first time that chemical weapons had killed people in ally Syria and called for the international community to prevent their use.

Rouhani stopped short of saying who he thought had used the arms, but Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday said evidence pointed to rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Tehran has previously accused Syrian rebels of being behind what it called suspected chemical attacks.

Rouhani did not mention the international furor around Syrian opposition reports that government forces had killed as many as 1,000 civilians with gas in Damascus on Wednesday.

“Many of the innocent people of Syria have been injured and martyred by chemical agents and this is unfortunate,” recently elected Rouhani was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

“We completely and strongly condemn the use of chemical weapons, because the Islamic Republic of Iran is itself a victim of chemical weapons,” he said, according to the agency.

Iran suffered chemical weapons attacks by Iraqi forces during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

“The Islamic Republic gives notice to the international community to use all its might to prevent the use of these weapons anywhere in the world, especially in Syria,” Mehr news agency quoted Rouhani as saying.

Syria’s government denies using such weapons and Iran’s foreign minister said on Thursday that groups fighting Assad’s forces in a two-year-old rebellion must have been behind what he then said was just a suspected gas attack.

Russia, another major ally of the Syrian government, has suggested rebels could be behind the attack.

Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, said Iran believed the rebels were behind the attack, and that Iran was in touch with Syria and other countries to find out what happened.

“There is evidence that this action was carried out by terrorist groups,” ISNA quoted Araqchi as saying. “The concurrence of the use of these weapons with the presence of United Nations inspectors is itself an indication that there are hands at work to accuse the Syrian government of using these weapons and help the conflict and crisis to continue.”

The uprising against four decades of Assad family rule has turned into a civil war that has killed more than 100,000.

Foreign powers have said chemical weapons could change the calculus in terms of intervention and are urging the Syrian government to allow a U.N. team of experts to examine the site of Wednesday’s reported attacks.

The United States on Friday was repositioning naval forces in the Mediterranean to give President Barack Obama the option of an armed strike on Syria, although officials said that Obama had made no decision on military action.

In response, Iran warned the United States on Saturday not to get militarily involved in Syria.

“No international license exists for military intervention in Syria,” Araqchi was quoted as saying by ISNA. “We hope that White House officials are wise enough to not enter such a dangerous battle. Statements of provocation by American military officials or actions such as sending warships do not help solve the issue and will make the region’s situation more dangerous.”

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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