A United Nations panel investigating war crimes in Syria said it has found no conclusive evidence that either side in the conflict used chemical weapons, distancing itself from a member's claim citing "strong, concrete suspicions" that rebel forces used sarin gas.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic said Monday it wanted to clarify "that it has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict."
The statement comes after panel member and former war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told Swiss television the commission has indications Syrian rebel forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad used the nerve agent sarin as a weapon.
Del Ponte said her comments were based on testimony from victims, doctors and field hospitals in neighboring countries. She said investigators do not yet have certain proof, and also cautioned that the investigation is not complete. Del Ponte did not provide details about where or when the chemical weapons may have been used.
The commission is separate from a fact-finding mission appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that so far has not been allowed to work inside Syria to probe possible chemical weapons use.
Both the Syrian government and the opposition have accused the other side of using the weapons. British, French and Israeli officials have also charged that Mr. Assad's government employed chemical arms against rebels.
Del Ponte said the commission has not yet seen evidence of that use by government forces, but that the investigation continues.
The Obama administration has said U.S. intelligence agencies assess "with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin."
At the same time, the administration said it would "seek to establish credible and corroborated facts" and "fully investigate any and all evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria."
U.S. President Barack Obama has said there is evidence chemical weapons have been used in Syria, but his administration does not know when they were used, or who used them.