WASHINGTON – Western military intervention in Syria appeared imminent on Sunday
as US officials expressed confidence that the country’s embattled president,
Bashar Assad, had used chemical weapons against his own people on a massive
Preparing military options with its allies, the US said it had
“little doubt” sarin was used in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta last week, and
that any UN investigation into mass chemical weapons use in Syria would, at this
point, be “too late to be credible.”
The comments, from a senior US
administration official to The Jerusalem Post
, came hours after the UN announced
that the Assad regime would give its team on the ground access to the site of
the alleged chemical attack.
“If the Syrian government had nothing to
hide and wanted to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons in
this incident, it would have ceased its attacks on the area and granted
immediate access to the UN – five days ago,” the official said.
juncture, the belated decision by the regime to grant access to the UN team is
too late to be credible, including because the evidence available has been
significantly corrupted as a result of the regime’s persistent shelling and
other intentional actions over the last five days,” the official
Extensive evidence indicates that sarin gas was used against
civilians in Ghouta on Wednesday, killing upwards of 1,000.
“Based on the
reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or
injured, witness accounts and other facts gathered by open sources, the US
intelligence community and international partners, there is very little doubt at
this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against
civilians in this incident,” the official said.
including the foreign minister, gave rare interviews to foreign media outlets on
Saturday strongly denying claims that their government had used chemical weapons
against its own people in the Damascus suburb, despite Western officials stating
they have “little doubt” the attack occurred.
The United Nations
confirmed on Sunday that Assad’s government would grant its team access to the
site, which was shelled by Assad’s forces throughout Thursday. Western
government officials saw Thursday’s onslaught as an attempt to destroy
A spokesman told the Post
the UN was “not making any
predictions” how long its investigation would take.
The UN team starts
work in Ghouta on Monday.
The State Department has repeatedly said the US
does not believe rebel forces, fighting for Assad’s ouster, have the capability
to make or deliver chemical weapons.
President Barack Obama has ordered
the US military to prepare strike options, should he choose to move forward with
an attack. The Pentagon has moved warships
closer to the Syrian coast, in range
of a long target list of assets of Assad’s army, including command and control
centers as well as mobile units.
London and Paris have been working in
close concert with the White House on preparations. Britain’s Prime Minister
David Cameron said on Friday that confirmation of chemical weapons use on such a
mass scale would violate international standards of warfare and would require a
Russia’s Foreign Ministry put out a statement warning
the West against an attack.
“We strongly urge those... trying to
impose their opinion on UN experts ahead of the results of an
investigation... to exercise discretion and not make tragic mistakes,”
the statement read.
Russia warned the US against repeating “past
mistakes” in the region and going “against international law,” saying that
military action would do both and would have a “devastating impact” across the
Iran on Sunday renewed its warning against Western
intervention, calling US military action its own redline for direct involvement.
And a Syrian official said that Western strikes would result in a “ball of fire”
that would inflame the entire region.
US Senators John McCain and Lindsey
Graham, who have been demanding military intervention in Syria for months,
renewed their call on Sunday in a joint statement.
weapons, without boots on the ground, and at minimal risk to our men and women
in uniform, we can significantly degrade Assad’s air power and ballistic missile
capabilities and help to establish and defend safe areas on the ground,” they
Sen. Bob Corker, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, said on Sunday he expected Obama to order “surgical” strikes, and
hopes the president will seek congressional approval for any continuation of
them once the legislature returns from its August recess.
Parliament is in recess for the summer, and could be recalled if Cameron decided
to join an allied military effort. During the conflict in Libya in 2011,
Parliament was convened to approve British military involvement three days after
the operation began.