Yesterday the White House sent a letter to Sen. John McCain that said the U.S. intelligence community “does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States believes such weapons have been used in two instances (Britain has cited three episodes, 2 on March 19, and one on Dec. 24, when it believes chemical weapons were used.)
The reason this issue is so critical is that President Obama has said that use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “game-changer” and would cross a red line.
Obama has been notably reluctant to get involved militarily in Syria, or to directly arm Syrian rebels, and U.S. officials are still insisting they need much more information about what chemical weapons were used and by whom before making any decisions on a response.
But, also Thursday, new claims that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on 4/25/13 were put forward by the Syrian Support Group (SSG) – a U.S. organization licensed to support the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella rebel group to which the United States is giving non-lethal support.
I received a press statement that said: “The Syrian Support Group (SSG) has learned from information sources in Damascus that two separate chemical attacks were conducted in the southern portion of the town of Daraya, near the town of Sahnaya at 1:00 am and 7:00 am (Damascus time) on the morning of Thursday, April 25th. Roughly 105 victims were reported.
“Damascus-based doctors operating in a Daraya medical center reported to SSG that a chemical-filled rocket struck southern Daraya near the neighboring town of Sahnaya, approximately eight miles southwest of the Damascus city center. Similar to the March 19, 2013 attacks in Damascus and Khan al-Asal, victims who were explosed to the chemical substance experienced symptoms including muscle spasms, bronchial spasms, headaches, dizziness, vomiting and miosis.
“At this time, specific numbers of individuals wounded or killed are not available. Large numbers of livestock were also killed by the attack. Doctors have not yet confirmed the type of chemical used in the attacks.”
These claims have not been confirmed, but they will no doubt add to the pressure on Obama to give lethal military aid to the rebels. I will be writing on this subject in my Sunday column.