WASHINGTON, June 13 (RIA Novosti) – The White House said Thursday it now believes with “high confidence” that Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons multiple times during the two-year conflict there and vowed to boost US aid to the armed opposition fighting to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.
“Our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in a conference call Thursday.
US President Barack Obama has long said that use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces would constitute a “red line,” and Rhodes said Obama had decided to provide further support, including military support, for Syrian opposition forces as a result of its conclusion that government forces has used such arms.
Rhodes declined to clarify whether this support would entail providing arms to the Syrian opposition but said US aid to armed opposition on the ground would differ greatly “in scope and scale” from assistance Washington had previously provided to the rebels. The US goal, Rhodes said, is to “strengthen their effectiveness.”
The “deliberative review” from the US intelligence community indicates that that between 100 and 150 people have died in Syria as a result of government forces’ use of chemical weapons, Rhodes said, adding that Washington considers this estimate “incomplete.”
“While the lethality of these attacks make up only a small portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria, which now stands at more than 90,000 deaths, the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades,” he said.
Rhodes said the White House had already made its assessment on the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons to Russia, which has fiercely opposed Western intervention in the conflict.
Both sides in the more than two-year civil war in Syria have accused each other of using chemical weapons in recent months.
Russia is widely regarded as an ally of Syria, and together with China has vetoed several Western-backed Security Council resolutions designed to pressure Assad to end the use of force in his country, where fighting has been ongoing between government forces and rebels since March 2011.