Sources: No conclusion yet on Syrian chemical use

Ban warns Assad on unconventional weapons; Damascus calls for UN probe into attack; US: No evidence to back report of attack.

Girl allegedly hurt in Syria chemical weapon attack 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/George Ourfalian)
Girl allegedly hurt in Syria chemical weapon attack 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/George Ourfalian)
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 Wednesday.
Israel is continuously monitoring Syria for chemical weapons use, and believes that President Bashar Assad has made advanced preparations to deploy them.
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 Syria.
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 would be.
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 consequences.”
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 reporters.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said the body had not received a formal request from Syria for an investigation and would respond once it received one.
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.”
But Ban’s office told The Jerusalem Post that it, too, had no definitive confirmation that such weapons had been used this week.
“The 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.
But 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 them.
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.