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Chemical weapons used in Syria at least twice, US official says

Amid calls for increased Western intervention, under secretary of state says intelligence ‘not all one needs’ to justify action

Illustrative photo of a victim of an alleged chemical weapons attack on Homs, Syria, December 23, 2012 (screen capture: YouTube)
Illustrative photo of a victim of an alleged chemical weapons attack on Homs, Syria, December 23, 2012 (screen capture: YouTube)

Chemical weapons have been used at least twice in attacks during the Syrian civil war, a senior US official said Wednesday.

“The intelligence community has agreed with varying levels of confidence that chemical weapons were used in small amounts in at least two instances in Syria,” Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told American lawmakers, according to AFP. “But having high confidence up in the intelligence community, for which I have great admiration, is not in fact all that one needs to take some of the actions that many people have contemplated.”

In recent weeks, the US government has intimated that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against its own people would potentially constitute the crossing of a “red line” for possible military intervention. Still, US President Barack Obama claimed two weeks ago that the intelligence about the use of chemical weapons in Syria was still not sufficient.

In Syria, each side has accused the other of wielding deadly chemical weapons during the devastating civil war that broke out in 2011, but Sherman did not point a finger at either side. The White House has blamed the country’s embattled President Bashar Assad of using chemical weapons.

On Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that there is “strong evidence” that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its people.

Wendy Sherman (photo credit: CC-BY dbking, Flickr)
Wendy Sherman (photo credit: CC-BY dbking, Flickr)

“If you’re willing to compromise in the choosing of the people who will run that transitional government and you choose, in good faith, people who are prepared to put in front of the people of Syria a fair choice about who their leader ought to be, then I believe you could avoid war and you could have a settlement,” Kerry said.

Talk of increased Western intervention in Syria has grown louder in the wake of Israeli accusations that Assad attacked civilians with sarin nerve gas on multiple occasions.

Earlier in May, Israeli reportedly carried out two large airstrikes against targets in Syria, prompting an ongoing exchange of threats between Assad and Israeli officials.

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