US downplays report that Syria used chemical arms

White House reiterates that if Assad's government did resort to these weapons, it would be held to account.

By REUTERS
January 16, 2013 04:04
2 minute read.
Smoke from shelling in Damascus [file photo]

Smoke from shelling in Damascus 370 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS / Handout)

 
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The US denied a report on Tuesday night which claimed that the State Department identified a use of chemical weapons in Syria last month.

The denial was accompanied by a warning that if the Assad regime did use chemical weapons, it would be held to account.

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“The reporting we have seen from media sources regarding alleged chemical weapons incidents in Syria has not been consistent with what we believe to be true about the Syrian chemical weapons program,” White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

According to the report, published by American journalist Josh Rogin in The Cable blog, which is hosted by the Foreign Policy website, “a secret State Department cable has concluded that the Syrian military likely used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly attack last month.”

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Following the December 23 attack in Homs, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe

The report added that “United States diplomats in Turkey conducted a previously undisclosed, intensive investigation” into the claims of a chemical weapons attack in Homs, and came up with a “compelling case” that a deadly form of poison gas had been used.

Following a December 23 attack by Syrian forces in Homs, rebels released footage of patients they said had suffered injuries, including severe respiratory problems caused by mysterious chemical agent.



Soon afterward, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon responded by saying that that the rebel claims lacked evidence.

“As things stand now, we do not have any confirmation or proof that [chemical weapons] have already been used, but we are definitely following events with concern,” he said at the time.



Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last month that Assad’s government had concentrated its chemical arsenal in two depots in an effort to make them more secure. Lavrov also played down the chances that they would used against rebel fighters.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated his concern over Syrian chemical weapons, stating they not only pose a threat to the civilians in Syria, and to Israel, but to the entire region.

According to the United Nations, more than 60,000 people have died in the 22- month long conflict between Assad forces and the opposition battling to end decades of his family’s rule.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report

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