PMO mum on whether Syria used chemical weapons

Refusal to relate to head of IDF intelligence research's comments could indicate desire to avoid conflict with US.

April 25, 2013 02:28
1 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, April 21, 2013.

Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370. (photo credit: Amit Shabi/Yediot Ahronot, pool)

The Prime Minister’s Office refused on Wednesday to comment on remarks made a day earlier by a senior military intelligence officer that Syrian President Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons against his opponents.

“We believe the regime has, and is using chemical weapons,” said Brig.-Gen Itai Baron, head of the Military Intelligence Research Division, at an Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv.

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The Prime Minister Office’s refusal to relate to the general’s comments may stem from a desire to avoid conflict with the US administration over the matter.

US President Barack Obama has said that the use of chemical weapons by Assad would constitute a “red line” that would trigger an American response.

The UK and France have already said that Assad has used chemical weapons, reportedly informing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that they have corroborating evidence, including soil samples and witness testimony.

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US Secretary of State John Kerry, however, said at a NATO conference on Tuesday that the information he has at this point “does not confirm it to me in a way that I would be comfortable commenting on it as a fact.”

He said that whatever allegations are made have to be “thoroughly investigated” and that it was appropriate to “chase this one down and find out what is going on.” Kerry also said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, with whom he spoke on Tuesday, did not confirm Baron’s claim.

The Prime Minister’s Office would neither relate to Baron’s statement or to the conversation with Kerry.

The Syrian chemical issue, meanwhile, is expected to be on the agenda of talks Netanyahu will have Thursday with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, as well as with a delegation of US senators set to arrive next week. Netanyahu met late Wednesday with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Also on Wednesday, the Netanya Academic College announced that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy will come to Israel in May and receive an honorary doctorate from the college for his “humanitarian work, leadership, and friendship toward Israel and the Jewish people.”

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