Merkel: German chemicals not used for Syrian weapons

A man sits in a hospital near two children who activists say were affected by nerve gas in the Ghouta region of Damascus, Syria, 21 August 2013
Image caption This week the UN confirmed that chemical weapons were used in Syria

Chancellor Angela Merkel has denied that 137 tonnes of German chemicals exported to Syria were used in weapons.

Delivered between 2002 and 2006, they are regarded as "dual use" and can be used to make sarin, used in the deadly chemical attack in Syria last month.

"To my knowledge they were used solely for civil purposes," Mrs Merkel told ARD, Germany's public TV broadcaster.

But officials were still checking what happened to chemicals exported in the following five years, she said.

"From May 2011 onwards there were very strict sanctions against Syria. And since then there has not been any such exports," said the German chancellor, who came to power in 2005 and is seeking re-election on Sunday.

But she said Germany's export guidelines had already been very strict, "especially for munitions", stemming from the time the Social Democrats and Greens were in office.

"We of course obey these regulations," Mrs Merkel said.

The chemicals included hydrogen fluoride and ammonium hydrogen fluoride, which according to Germany's Suddeutsche newspaper were supposed to be used in the production of toothpaste.

The investigation to find out if the chemicals were indeed used for peaceful purposes was initiated following a parliamentary question from Germany's Left Party.

"For other times there still is a need for clarification," Mrs Merkel said.

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Media captionPresident Assad says he will "get rid" of Syria's chemical weapons - Clips courtesy Fox News

"But information to this point state that the chemicals were not used in order to produce chemical weapons such as sarin."

Casualty figures vary for those who died on 21 August in the chemical attack on Ghouta, the agricultural belt around Syria's capital, Damascus.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said its intelligence assessment shows that 1,429 people were killed.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has again denied claims that his forces were responsible for the Ghouta attack.

In an interview with US TV channel Fox News, he said was he committed to a plan to destroy his country's chemical weapons but warned it could take about a year.

More than 100,000 people have been killed since Syria's civil war began in early 2011, according to the UN.

Millions have fled the country and millions more have been left homeless.