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France issues arrest warrant for Syria's Assad — reports

France has issued an international arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar Assad; his brother Mahel, the de facto chief of a Syrian elite military unit; and two other Syrian officials over chemical attacks in 2013, a judicial source and plaintiffs in the case said on Wednesday.

It is the first international arrest warrant issued for Syria's president, whose forces have responded to protests that began in 2011 with a brutal clampdown that UN experts say amounts to war crimes.

The warrants, which relate to charges of complicity in crimes against humanity and complicity in war crimes, follow a criminal investigation into chemical attacks in the town of Douma and the Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus in August 2013 that killed more than 1,000 people.

The Paris court's unit concerned with crimes against humanity has been investigating the chemical attacks since 2021. France claims worldwide jurisdiction over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The probe followed a legal complaint filed by the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) NGO, lawyers' association Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and the Syrian Archive, a body documenting human rights violations in Syria.

Chemical attacks in Syria

In August 2013, Syrian opposition activists posted amateur videos on YouTube purporting to show the effects of the chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta, including footage of dozens of bodies, many of them children, lying on the ground.

The scenes sparked global outrage and condemnation. A United Nations report later said there was clear evidence that sarin gas had been used.

Syria agreed in 2013 to join the global watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and give up all its chemical weapons.

The OPCW has since blamed Damascus for a number of chemical attacks during the civil war.

The Syrian government has denied the allegations, which have also sparked legal action in Germany and other European countries.

dh/rc (AFP, Reuters)