The Syrian military is prepared to use chemical weapons against its own people and is awaiting final orders from Syrian president Bashar Assad, NBC News reported Wednesday, citing US officials.
The officials told NBC News that "the army had loaded precursor chemicals for sarin, a deadly nerve gas, onto aerial bombs that could be dropped onto the Syrian people from dozens of fighter-bombers."
According to the report, the officials added that the sarin bombs hadn't yet been loaded onto planed, but if Assad gives the green light, "there's little the outside world can do to stop it."
On Tuesday the head of NATO, asked about possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, said that any such act would provoke an immediate international response.
"The possible use of chemical weapons would be completely unacceptable for the whole international community," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters.
"If anybody resorts to these terrible weapons, then I would expect an immediate reaction from the international community," he said.
Rasmussen's statement followed a similar warning by US President Barack Obama to Assad on Monday not to use chemical weapons against Syrian opposition forces, saying there would be consequences if he were to do so.
"I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching," Obama said in a speech to a gathering of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons proliferation experts.
"The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable and if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable," Obama said.
He did not say how the United States might respond, but White House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier that "contingency planning" was under way when asked whether the use of military force was an option.
As Assad's government has shown signs of increasing strain in response to recent advances made by the rebels, Carney said the United States has grown concerned that the Syrian president might be considering the use of chemical weapons.
This would, Carney said, "cross a red line for the United States."
Some US Republicans have been critical of the Obama administration's response to the Syrian crisis as thousands of people have been killed during the country's civil war.
During the presidential campaign, Obama's Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, said the United States should facilitate the arming of Syrian rebels, a step Obama has not taken.
Obama said in his speech on Monday that the United States would continue to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, engaging with the opposition and providing them with humanitarian aid. He said his goal is a transition in Syria to a country that is free of Assad.
The Atlantic reported Monday that Israel asked Jordan on a number of occasions for "permission" to bomb Syrian chemical weapons sites, citing intelligence sources in both countries.
According to the report, Jordan turned down requests a number of times in the past two months, saying "the time was not right." Jordan is reportedly wary of allowing Israel to bomb the sites in Syria, fearing a military response on Jordanian territory. "A number of sites are not far from the border," the report quoted a foreign source as saying.