American officials say they have confirmed that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against the insurgency seeking to remove it, asserting that the move crosses a “red line.”
An internal memorandum circulating within the Obama administration has assessed that chemical weapons, most likely the nerve gas sarin, were used multiple times in battle against the Syrian rebels.
The “intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” according to that memo, as cited by The New York Times.
White House officials speculated over evidence that nerve gas had been used as of April, but that evidence is now being called “definitive” – with Congressional sources describing the conclusion as crossing the “red line” for US military intervention as previously defined by the president.
According to officials who spoke with the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the US military is currently considering a proposal for arming factions of the Syrian insurgency – as well as establishing a limited no-fly zone over the country to be enforced from nearby Jordanian territory.
That no-fly zone could stretch for up to 25 miles into Syrian territory, and would be set up in a bid to train and equip rebel forces and protect refugees, officials said.
A no-fly zone would not require the destruction of Syrian antiaircraft batteries, according to the accounts cited in American media. The White House could alternatively authorize the arming and training of the Syrian opposition in Jordan without a no-fly zone.
Congress was being notified of the conclusions over chemical weapons use in the country on Thursday in classified documents. Findings were corroborated by evidence sent to the US by France, which along with Britain claimed that Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons.
In a conference call to reporters on Thursday, the White House said that the intelligence community estimates that as many as 150 people, or about 0.16 per cent (0.0016) of the 93,000 reported deaths in the Syrian conflict, could have been a result of chemical weapons used by pro-Assad forces.
The White House said during the same call that the US “will make decisions on our own timeline” regarding the next steps on Syria. President Obama will consult with G8 partners, including Russia, about Syria next week.
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