WASHINGTON, April 25 (RIA Novosti) – The United States said Thursday it has evidence that chemical weapons have been used by the Syrian government in the civil war there, blaming the increasingly “desperate” regime of President Bashar al-Assad for crossing a “red line” that US President Barack Obama has said could lead to US intervention in the conflict.
Intelligence gathered by the United States, with the help of opposition forces in Syria, shows “with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria,” the White House said in a letter sent to Senators John McCain and Carl Levin.
The White House said it had physiological samples indicating that the deadly chemical agent sarin was used on two occasions in the Syrian war, which has claimed at least 70,000 lives and displaced millions in just over two years.
Although there was no hard evidence to show which side in the Syrian conflict had used chemical weapons, the White House said the attacks “very likely originated within the Assad regime,” which it said was becoming increasingly “desperate” as the situation in Syria deteriorates and has already shown “the willingness to escalate the use of violence against the Syrian people.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry also said that the United States had evidence indicating chemical weapons had been used twice in Syria, but refused to say where, when or by whom.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was the first US official on Thursday to confirm that Washington believed deadly chemical agents had been used in Syria, reading from the White House letter to reporters in Abu Dhabi.
“It violates every convention of warfare,” Hagel said.
Several US lawmakers said Syria had crossed the “red line” set by Obama, who has said the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict would be a “game-changer” that could push the United States to intervene in the civil war in Syria.
“It’s pretty obvious the red line has been crossed,” said McCain, adding that the United States should “provide a safe area for the opposition to operate,” establish a no-fly zone over Syria, and, “supply weapons to people in the resistance whom we trust.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham called on Washington to “put pressure on the Russians to get Assad out and secure chemical weapons sites.”
And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned that if the United States and its allies did not act decisively to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria, “President Assad may calculate he has nothing more to lose” and might “further escalate this conflict.”
“It is clear that ‘red lines’ have been crossed and action must be taken to prevent larger scale use. Syria has the ability to kill tens of thousands with its chemical weapons,” Feinstein said in a statement, urging “the United Nations Security Council—including Russia—to finally take strong and meaningful action to end this crisis in Syria.”
Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, warned Wednesday that aiding opposition groups fighting the regime in Damascus would “increase terrorist activity” in the Middle East.
The White House on Thursday said that even though Obama has “set a clear red line that the use of chemical weapons was unacceptable to the United States,” Washington wanted to further evaluate the evidence gathered in Syria before deciding a course of action.
“I would say that given our own history with intelligence assessments, including intelligence assessments related to weapons of mass destruction, it's very important that we are able to establish this with certainty and that we are able to present information that is airtight in a public and credible fashion to underpin all of our decision-making,” a White House official speaking on background said, adding that the United States was keeping “all options on the table.”
Updated throughout with new information and comments.