'Growing evidence' of chemical weapons use in Syria - UK


The footage of an alleged chemical weapon attack was posted on YouTube

There is "limited but growing" evidence that Syrian government troops have used chemical weapons, UK Prime Minister David Cameron says.

"It is extremely serious, this is a war crime," Mr Cameron told the BBC.

On Thursday, the White House said that US intelligence agencies believed "with varying degrees of confidence" that Syria had used the nerve agent sarin on a "small scale".

Syrian officials have denounced the allegations as "lies".

Opposition activists and state media meanwhile report fierce fighting between government troops and rebels in a number of suburbs of the capital, Damascus.

'Tested positive'

Mr Cameron said he agreed with the White House's warning that chemical weapons use would be a "red line" for possible intervention.

However, the US has said that this latest intelligence does not represent proof of chemical weapons use.

David Cameron: "It is extremely serious, this is a war crime"

The White House's assessment was made in letters to lawmakers on Thursday signed by Miguel Rodriguez, White House director of the office of legislative affairs.

"Our intelligence community does assess, with varying degrees of confidence, that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin," one of the letters said.

No details were given of where or when sarin had been used.

The letter added: "Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experiences, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient - only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making."

The phrase "varying degrees of confidence" is normally used to reflect differences in opinion within the intelligence community.

Speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the use of sarin "violates every convention of warfare".

Already US Republicans are saying the red lines have been crossed, that the Assad regime will feel emboldened if there is not action, that the investigation must not be outsourced to the United Nations.

It is clear President Obama doesn't want to go to war in Syria. He regards it as too complex, too difficult, too uncertain.

American military action there would have a huge impact on the perception of America in the region - confirming every image he wants to change.

Yet the US is, perhaps, moving slowly and cautiously toward taking action. There is no sense of a time scale and no real certainty about what might be done.

This is very Obama: the caution, the desire to bring allies along, the reluctance to rush to judgment.

The UK Foreign Office echoed the US claims, saying it had "limited but persuasive information from various sources" of chemical weapons use in Syria.

It is understood that Britain obtained samples from inside Syria that have been tested by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, Wiltshire.

"Material from inside Syria tested positive for sarin," a Foreign Office spokesman said.

On Friday, Syrian official Sharif Shehadeh told the Associated Press the US allegations were "lies", saying that similar US accusations about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction had proved untrue.

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad also dismissed the accusations in an earlier interview with Reuters,

Syria is believed to possess large quantities of chemical weapons and there has been heightened concern among the international community in recent months about the safety of the stockpiles.

Although there have been numerous accusations, there has so far not been any confirmation that chemical weapons have been used during Syria's two-year-old conflict.

Anthony Loyd, a journalist for the Times newspaper, told the BBC about the aftermath of one suspected chemical weapons attack earlier this month in the northern city of Aleppo.

Journalist Anthony Loyd visited the victims in hospital

Video shown to him by doctors treating the affected patients "showed pretty clearly that they had been gassed", Mr Loyd says.

None of the patients appeared to have been hit by shrapnel but were frothing at the mouth, had dilated pupils and several other symptoms suggesting the use of chemical weapons, he added.

BBC world affairs correspondent, Nick Childs, says the use of chemical weapons has long been perceived as especially horrific because they are seen as particularly inhumane and indiscriminate, not least in the wake of public revulsion over their deployment during World War I, which led to efforts to outlaw them.

US President Barack Obama warned in December that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would face "consequences" if he used such weapons.

The letters released on Thursday were sent to powerful US senators John McCain and Carl Levin.

In response, Senator McCain told reporters a "red line has been crossed" and recommended arming the opposition, a step the White House has been reluctant to take.

High-profile Democratic lawmakers also called for action to help secure Syria's stockpile of chemical arms and increase aid to the opposition, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone.

What is Sarin?

  • One of a group of nerve gas agents invented by German scientists as part of Hitler's preparations for World War II
  • Huge secret stockpiles built up by superpowers during Cold War
  • 20 times more deadly than cyanide: A drop the size of a pin-head can kill a person
  • Called "the poor man's atomic bomb" due to large number of people that can be killed by a small amount
  • Kills by crippling the nervous system through blocking the action of an enzyme that removes acetylcholine - a chemical that transmits signals down the nervous system
  • Can only be manufactured in a laboratory, but does not require very sophisticated equipment
  • Very dangerous to manufacture. Contains four main ingredients, including phosphorus trichloride

On Friday Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zev Elkin hinted that the US should consider military action to "take control" of Syria's chemical weapons.

"It is clear that if the United States wants to and the international community wants to, they could act - inter alia, militarily... And then all the fears... will not be relevant," Mr Elkin told Israeli radio.

Mr Cameron said he was "keen for us to do more" in helping opposition forces in Syria.

"We want our allies and partners to do more with us to shape that opposition to make sure we're supporting people with good motives," he said.

Meanwhile, opposition activists reported fierce fighting in the Barzeh district of northern Damascus on Friday, saying that the army and pro-government militiamen had pushed into the area backed by tank fire.

The state-run Sana news agency said troops had killed a number of rebels in fighting in the Jobar and Zamalka districts of the capital.

According to the UN, at least 70,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict.

Syria's government and rebels have accused each other of using chemical weapons. A UN team is trying to enter Syria to investigate.


More on This Story

Syria's war War in Syria


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 430.

    Al-Qaeda affiliates with chemical weapons. What could possibly go wrong?

    What could be much worse would be to allow Islamist Iran to develop nuclear weapons and to transfer them to such outfits like al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc., in order to avoide retaliation against
    Iran itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    .Both sides in this conflict are as bad as each other and so supporting either side cannot be justified .The eye catching and emotive term "Chemical attack" is being used in a feeble attempt to differentiate between them and provide a reason to come down on the side of the"rebels" .We may yet see another dodgy dossier

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    I just don't understand the bbc at all.

    On the one hand it is a propaganda tool for the faux-liberal metropolitan socialist elites - see biased gay marriage, gay adoption, EU and welfare reporting.

    On the other hand it is a propaganda tool for Islamic extremists - see biased Syria, Israel and Caucasus reporting.

    No wonder people think the bbc is no longer fit for purpose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    How Ironic that the last recorded use of Poison Gas by Great Britain was against the Arab and Kurds in Mesopotamia in 1920.

    That was before the Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.

    Syria Agreed to this on 17th December 1968.

    Maybe they were lying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 426.

    I understood that the 'soil samples' with the chemical element were passed over by the same 'rebels' who have backed Al Queda .... are we also just '45 minutes' away from another September Dossier?

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    Yes all very sad reading, but what exactly has this got to do with us? sending troops all over the world to interfere has shown to be non productive..oh yeah unless we can get some oil out of it. Thats not a good enough reason for me..stay out of it Dave

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    War is a dirty business and one to which mankind is sadly addicted. The list of dastardly practices is endless from dropping explosives from unmanned aircraft to threatening to blow the planet to smithereens with nuclear devices, both espoused by the USA and its cohorts. So, if true, how do we go about “punishing” the Syrian Government?

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    There is little evidence this is true, and we are already talking of intervention... I smell another Iraq here...

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    Would these be the same 'Intelligence' experts who told us about WMDs in Iraq?

    USA/UK want their own puppet in charge of Syria, instead of it being the Russians puppet, so they can sell them weapons and buy their oil on the cheap, thats all this is about.

    & children are dying while our 'leaders' continue to play chess.


  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    Andy B
    1 Hour ago

    to all the comments about 'here we go again' or 'why bother' - clearly you don't care about children being killed then?

    I am sure people DO CARE. However there are MANY other countries in far worse situations and we have enough issues on our shores, be it not as bad as syria but help starts at home.

    Time for other players to "enforce" democracy, Not the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    Let's have a little reality check here with those who say it has nothing to do with us

    70,000 have already died in the Syrian Civil War.

    The country is dissolving into chaos.

    The Assad Regime has chemical weapons, irrespective of whether they have used them, if these fall into the hands of Islamic Jihadist Terrorists they will use them given the chance against us.

    That's why it matters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    'Limited evidence' = not enough. Lloyd didn't witness 'chemical casualties' first hand: he watched a video. Be careful what you wish for. This uprising is anything but recent. The history of the Sunni - Muslim Brotherhood v Alawite conflict goes back generations and organisations like Al Nusra should not be encouraged, enabled or facilititated. Sometimes it really is better the devil you know!

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    @339 "Eduard_Streltsov_Ghost"

    Nice to see you outside a Man U thread old bean

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    The nerve agent sarin has ben deployed in Syria? That'll be the American or British made nerve agent sarin deployed then so American and the UK can justify thier "intervention"?

    Time Western governments found new ways of justifying invasion as they are now on a law of diminishing returns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    404. Luther_Wesley-Baxter

    Come on that was completey uncalled for. Maybe true for WWII, however they we were all as bad as each for WWI, and I don't know what Sicko bookie would even accept bets for a WWIII let alone make Germany the favorite

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    Both sides are as bad as each other. Assad's regime is committing horrendous crimes against humanity in order to stay in power. If (when) the rebels gain control, they'll commit crimes against humanity in the form of strict Sharia law; the stoning of women for 'adultery', the execution of gays, blasphemers and apostates. Be careful what you wish for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    I logically fail to see the collective horror at the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria or elsewhere. All weapons kill both combatants & innocent civilians. There is morally nothing between them. My grandfather and his brother were both gassed in WW1. They didn't differentiate between being killed by rifle, machine gun, artillery or gas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    "here we go again"
    "iraq all over again"
    "we're being lied to"
    "doing as the US tell us"

    Honestly these HYS comments are getting pathetic, most of you are jumping on a bandwagon that doesn't even exist at the moment. You'd think we were going to war tomorrow judging by some comments on here. It's mass hysteria over something that hasn't even happened yet!

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    Iraq ... Déjà vu

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    If the US decide they wish to act, that is for them not us.

    We stay OUT!

    It is not our War, it has nothing to do with us, and none of our business.

    America appointed itself the "World Police" but we are NOT Deputies!


Page 35 of 56


More Middle East stories



  • Firth of Forth bridgeWhat came Firth?

    How the Forth was crossed before the famous bridge

  • Petrol pumpPumping up

    Why are petrol prices rising again?

  • Image of George from Tube CrushTube crush

    How London's male commuters set Chinese hearts racing

  • Elderly manSuicide decline

    The number of old people killing themselves has fallen. Why?

  • TricycleTreasure trove

    The lost property shop stuffed with diamonds, bikes... and a leg

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.