Concern over the possibility of broader war in the Middle East grew Monday in the wake of reported airstrikes on Syrian military installations.
The reported strikes killed 42 Syrian soldiers, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday, citing medical sources. It said 100 people remained missing.
The Syrian government warned Sunday’s apparent strikes — which followed one last week attributed by Syria to Israel — “opens the door wide for all the possibilities.”
Syrian ally Iran warned of a “crushing response” while Russia called reports of Israeli involvement “very worrying.”
But an Israeli general who commands forces on the Syrian border said “there are no winds of war,” according to the Israel Defense Forces website.
The heightened tensions come amid questions over possible chemical weapon use in Syria and international debate over how to respond to the country’s bloody civil war, in which more than 70,000 people have died in more than two years of fighting.
On Monday, a U.N. official spoke of strong suspicions that rebels, not Syrian government forces, have used chemical weapons.
Rebel Free Syrian Army spokesman Louay Almokdad said rebels don’t even have unconventional weapons, nor do they want any.
“In any case, we don’t have the mechanism to launch these kinds of weapons, which would need missiles that can carry chemical warheads, and we in the FSA do not possess these kind of capabilities,” Almokdad said.
“More importantly, we do not aspire to have (chemical weapons) because we view our battle with the regime as a battle for the establishment of a free democratic state. … We want to build a free democratic state that recognizes and abides by all international accords and agreements — and chemical and biological warfare is something forbidden legally and internationally.”
A battle near a factory believed to be one of the Syrian regime’s main chemical weapons plants shows just how close such weapons could be to falling into al-Qaeda’s hands
Set amid the rolling plains outside Aleppo, the town of al-Safira looks just like another vicious battleground in Syria’s civil war. On one side are lightly-armed rebels, on the other are government troops, and in between is a hotly-contested no-man’s land of bombed-out homes and burned-out military vehicles.
The fight for al-Safira is no ordinary turf war, however, and the prize can be found behind the perimeter walls of the heavily-guarded military base on the edge of town. Inside what looks like a drab industrial estate is one of Syria’s main facilities for producing chemical weapons - and among its products is sarin, the lethal nerve gas that the regime is now feared to be deploying in its bid to cling to power.
Last week, Washington said for the first time that it had evidence of Sarin being used in “small” amounts during combat operations in Syria, a move that President Barack Obama has long warned is a “red line” that President Bashar al-Assad must not cross.
But as the West now ponders its response, the fear is not just that President Assad might start using his chemical arsenal in much greater quantities. Of equal concern is the prospect of it falling into even less benign hands - a risk that the stand-off at al Safira illustrates clearly.
Obama is right not to rush to war, given our checkered past on the use of chemical weapons and the sinkhole of hatreds in Syria, writes Leslie H Gelb
Of course, we Americans think it’s horrible for any nation to use chemical weapons - except when we don’t. And of course, we want to punish any user of chemical weapons - except when we don’t. And of course, many now screaming against Syria’s likely use of chemical weapons against their rebels didn’t do much complaining when Iraq hurled these internationally banned gases against Iran and its own Kurdish people in the 1980s. And of course, American interventionists now demand U.S. military action against the Syrian government. But America’s history on chemical weapons is littered with mistakes and hypocrisy, and Syria itself is a bottomless pit of hatreds that can’t be “fixed” by more and more outside military force. And so, President Obama now correctly applies the brakes on further military action until the world knows for sure who did what, when and how with these horrible gasses, and until he figures out what the U.S. can do that won’t make the situation worse.
Yes, Mr. Obama was wrong to declare Syria’s use of poison gases to be a “red line” that required U.S. military action. Presidents should say such things only when they’re absolutely sure they will act accordingly. He wasn’t sure and still isn’t. But he’s right to count to ten now before he does something irretrievably stupid. We aren’t yet certain exactly what happened. We aren’t confident whether taking direct military action will bring the civil war to a speedier end or make it bloodier still. And we have no idea what we would do if initial U.S. military moves fail.
I should make clear at the outset that I’m flat opposed to the use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. I’m also for responding strongly. But a country’s use of chemical weapons doesn’t give Washington license to do something stupid. If it made no sense for Washington to start arming the Syrian rebels before President Assad crossed the chemical-weapons line, U.S. arms for the rebels probably still isn’t justified today. Other preferable ways to respond - such as a cruise missile attack against Assad’s palace (in essence a warning shot) - wouldn’t commit Washington to further action without further cause.
How to respond is no easy matter, and Americans have a way of forgetting history’s instructions; others don’t. Here’s some unpleasant history.
President Obama on Friday said “a line has been crossed” in Syria but cautioned that more “direct evidence” is needed to confirm a chemical weapons attack.
Speaking alongside King Abdullah of Jordan in the Oval Office, Obama said that the United States was working with countries like Jordan to obtain more evidence and confirmation of a potential chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
“To use weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line in terms of international norms and laws. … That’s going to be a game changer,” Obama said.
Obama did not say whether his “red line” regarding chemical weapons use had been crossed by the Assad regime, but he said “a line had been crossed” when tens of thousands of Syrians had been killed by government forces in the two-year conflict.
“Knowing that there’s chemical weapons in Syria doesn’t tell us when they were used or how they were used,” he said. “We ourselves will be putting a lot of resources on this.”
White House officials have said that no decisions are being made about the next steps the Obama administration would take in Syria until evidence of a chemical attack is corroborated.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the Syrian regime has likely used chemical weapons on a “small scale.”
Hagel was speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi. He says the White House has informed members of Congress that, within the last day, U.S. intelligence concluded with “some degree of varying confidence” that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons — specifically sarin gas.
Hagel says, quote, “It violates every convention of warfare.”
The United States believes with varying degrees of confidence that Syria’s regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale, the White House said on Thursday.
But it added that President Barack Obama needed “credible and corroborated” facts before acting on that assessment.
The disclosure, made by the White House in a letter to Congress and by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to reporters, moves the United States closer to declaring that Syria has crossed Obama’s “red line” on some kind of deeper involvement in the country’s civil war.
The White House has not specified what action Obama might take if he determines with certainty that Syria has crossed that red line with any chemical weapons use. But in its letter to lawmakers, it warned it was ready to respond.
“The administration is prepared for all contingencies so that we can respond appropriately to any confirmed use of chemical weapons, consistent with our national interest,” Miguel Rodriguez, White House director of the office of legislative affairs, said in a letter to lawmakers.
The White House said the assessment that Syria’s regime had used chemical weapons - specifically the chemical agent sarin - was based in part on physiological samples.
“The intelligence community has been assessing information for some time on this issue and the decision to reach this conclusion was made in the past 24 hours,” Hagel told reporters in Abu Dhabi.
(CNN) — The Syrian government is using chemical weapons against rebel forces, the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ intelligence research and analysis division said Tuesday.
“In all likelihood, they used sarin gas,” Brig. Gen. Itai Brun said at a conference in Tel Aviv. This comes as a civil war between the government and rebels rages across Syria, which borders Israel.
“One of the main characteristics of the recent events in Syria is the increasing use of ground-to-ground missiles, rockets and chemical weapons by the Syrian regime,” Brun said, according to quotes provided by the IDF.
“According to our professional assessment, the regime has used deadly chemical weapons against armed rebels on a number of occasions in the past few months. For instance, on March 19, 2013, victims suffered from shrunken pupils, foaming from the mouth and other symptoms which indicate the use of deadly chemical weapons. The type of chemical weapons was likely sarin, as well as neutralizing and nonlethal chemical weapons.”
The Syrian government is repelling attempts by the United Nations to widen an investigation into what is believed to be the use of chemical weapons in an Aleppo province village last month.
Both sides in the two-year conflict are blaming the other for the alleged incident in Khan al-Assal.
Damascus appeared ready to allow a U.N. inspection team currently in Cyprus to get a first-hand look in the village until Secretary General Ban Ki-moon requested additional teams to visit other parts of Syria to investigate additional claims.
While state-controlled media in Syria are claiming that opposition forces are responsible for what may have been a chemical weapon attack Tuesday in the city of Aleppo, rebel spokesman Qassim Saadeddine is telling Reuters that the opposition was “not behind this attack.”
As often happens when news such as this breaks, it’s not possible at this point to confirm just what — if anything — has happened. Syrian state media are claiming that at least 15 people were killed in Aleppo by some sort of rocket. The watchdog Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is telling Reuters that as many as 26 people were killed.
Syria’s chemical weapons could become a world problem, INSS expert warns. Rebels, not Hizbullah, the biggest threat.
If Syria’s chemical weapons fall into the wrong hands, the world may begin to experience terrorist attacks using chemical weapons, researcher Yiftah Shapir of the Institute for National Security Studies warned in an interview with Arutz Sheva.
Perhaps surprisingly, Shapir said that Hizbullah is not the biggest threat.
Hizbullah already is in possession of most of the chemical weapons and other unconventional means of attack that it could get from Syria, he explained. While there have been reports of some such weapons reaching the group in light of Syria’s internal conflict, the new weapons do not change the terrorist group’s capabilities, he said.
Hizbullah cannot use its current supply of chemical weapons for two reasons, he explained: first of all, the group lacks a delivery system, and secondly, it fears the international backlash that would follow use of unconventional weapons.
Syria may transfer chemical weapons to Hizbullah not for use in attacks, but rather for safekeeping, he noted. Hizbullah would then return the weapons if Syrian President Bashar Assad regains control of the country.