The defense community in Israel has not yet reached a conclusion on whether a
chemical weapon was used in Syria on Tuesday, senior security sources said
Israel is continuously monitoring Syria for chemical weapons
use, and believes that President Bashar Assad has made advanced preparations to
Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Damascus, said on
Wednesday there was so far no evidence to back reports that chemical weapons
were used in Syria on Tuesday.
“So far, we have no evidence which
substantiates the reports that chemical weapons were used yesterday. But I want
to underline that we are looking very carefully at these reports,” he said in
testimony to a US House of Representatives hearing on the crisis in
Ford also said there would be consequences for Syria’s government
if it were found to be using chemical weapons, but would not discuss what those
On Tuesday, official Syrian state media reported that 15 people
were killed – mostly civilians – in a town near Aleppo after a rebel rocket
containing a chemical warhead struck the area. The rebels dismissed the
accusation, saying that the Assad regime had fired a long-range projectile with
an unconventional warhead. Media reports from a local hospital showed a young
girl wounded in the blast, who said she was struggling to breathe. A Syrian
human rights group later said the death toll stood at 26, though other sources
have put it as high as 31.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on
Tuesday that Washington had not yet obtained evidence to substantiate the Assad
regime’s charge that the opposition had used chemical weapons. However, he
continued, “we warn the regime against making these kind of charges as a pretext
or cover for its use of chemical weapons.”
He added that “we are
evaluating and consulting with our allies about them. But on general principle,
the president made it very clear, and I quote, the use of chemical weapons would
be totally unacceptable, and he warned the Syrian regime that there will be
Meanwhile Wednesday, Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari
said his country had asked UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon to investigate the
attack by “terrorist groups.”
“The Syrian government has requested the
secretary-general of the United Nations to form a specialized, independent and a
neutral, technical mission to investigate the use by the terrorist groups
operating in Syria of chemical weapons yesterday against civilians,” he told
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said the body had not received a
formal request from Syria for an investigation and would respond once it
On Tuesday, Ban declared that the use of chemical weapons
“under any circumstances” in Syria – be it an attack perpetrated by Assad’s
regime or by his opposition – would constitute an “outrageous crime.”
Ban’s office told The Jerusalem Post
that it, too, had no definitive
confirmation that such weapons had been used this week.
secretary-general has repeatedly made clear that any use of chemical weapons
would be a grave violation of international humanitarian law and would be
unacceptable,” his spokesman said.
Few governments have been able or
willing to assert such confirmation in the wake of the attack, including the
United Kingdom, which said it had yet to “fully verify” the claims.
the chairmen of both US congressional intelligence committees strongly hinted
they had seen evidence that would challenge the president to act. Obama has said
that the use of chemical weapons constitutes a “red line” that would prompt
direct American intervention in the Syrian conflict.
In a conflict that
has taken more than 70,000 Syrian lives, only one previous claim of chemical
weapons use has arisen in the country, which has what is probably the world’s
largest arsenal of Sarin, mustard gas compounds and VX nerve agents. The
incident, in December 2012, went unconfirmed.
As such, the March 19
incident marked the first time in the two-year conflict that the Syrian
government acknowledged the use of such weapons. The Assad regime gave no
explanation as to how rebel forces might have come into possession of chemical
weapons, a missile capable of delivering such weapons, or a launch capacity for
such a missile.
Syria is one of six countries that has not signed the
Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the production, stockpiling and use
of such weapons, lethal or otherwise.
Israel has signed, but has not
verified, the treaty.
Last week, Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen.
Aviv Kochavi told the Herzliya Conference that Assad had made “advanced
preparations” to use chemical weapons, but had not yet given the order to deploy
He also noted that the Syrian air force was carrying out 40-50
sorties a week, and that the Assad regime had fired 70 Scud and M-600 missiles
since the conflict erupted. An additional 600 conventional rockets with warheads
carrying 250 kilograms of explosives have been fired.Reuters contributed
to this report.
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