Insiders: New Syrian Chemical War Allegations Under U.S. Inquiry

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Aug. 20, 2013, 8:02 a.m.

U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials are look­ing in­to fresh chem­ic­al-strike re­ports emer­ging from civil-war-torn Syr­ia, among them an Au­gust in­cid­ent said to have taken place north­east of Dam­as­cus, in­siders told For­eign Policy magazine for a Monday re­port.

Al­leg­a­tions of chem­ic­al-weapons use have fallen sig­ni­fic­antly in quant­ity since early June, around the time that gov­ern­ment forces seized Qusair in a key mil­it­ary win for Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s re­gime. U.S. of­fi­cials see the re­cent drop-off in at­tacks, once the gov­ern­ment had ob­tained the up­per hand in the con­flict, as a sign that it likely was re­spons­ible for un­leash­ing chem­ic­als earli­er, when As­sad’s mil­it­ary was seen to be los­ing battles.

Pres­id­ent Obama last year said any use of Syr­ia’s large chem­ic­al ar­sen­al would breach a “red line” and could force a strong U.S. re­sponse.

One U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial said, though, that “as long as they keep body count at a cer­tain level, we won’t do any­thing.”

The in­siders ad­ded that they re­portedly are mon­it­or­ing on­go­ing trans­fers near Khan Abu Shamat and oth­er ma­jor chem­ic­al-weapons store­houses over­seen by As­sad’s forces.

Mean­while, U.N. Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-moon on Monday said in­ter­na­tion­al in­vest­ig­at­ors had launched an on-the-ground as­sess­ment of three in­cid­ents of al­leged chem­ic­al arms use in Syr­ia. The ef­fort would con­tin­ue for at least two weeks and could “be ex­ten­ded by mu­tu­al con­sent,” he said in a state­ment to re­port­ers.

“The mis­sion must have full ac­cess to the sites of the al­leged in­cid­ents,” the U.N. chief stated. “This in­cludes ac­cess to the re­por­ted sites to un­der­take the ne­ces­sary ana­lyses and to col­lect samples. It also in­cludes in­ter­views and ex­am­in­a­tion of wit­nesses, vic­tims, at­tend­ing med­ic­al per­son­nel as well as the con­duct of post­mortem ex­am­in­a­tions.”

He noted, though, that war­time con­di­tions would “un­doubtedly af­fect the mis­sion’s activ­it­ies.”

“If con­firmed, the use of chem­ic­al weapons by any side un­der any cir­cum­stances must be held ac­count­able and would con­sti­tute an in­ter­na­tion­al crime,” he ad­ded.

The prime min­is­ter of neigh­bor­ing Jordan on Monday said his gov­ern­ment is boost­ing chem­ic­al-war­fare read­i­ness near its bor­der with Syr­ia, in part by ramp­ing up its armed-forces pres­ence in the area.

“It is our duty to pro­tect our cit­izens, bor­der vil­lages and par­tic­u­larly the Zaatari refugee camp” against any Syr­i­an chem­ic­al arms, Prime Min­is­ter Ab­dul­lah En­sour said in com­ments re­por­ted by Deutsche Presse-Agen­tur.

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