'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 450.

    Whilst it's in no way acceptable that chemical agents are used, it is also unacceptable for a sovereign state to invade another which is not directly threatening it.

    This is not an issue for the UK or US to enforce. What we're witnessing here is the very reason that the UN was brought into existance, and we should be looking for the UN to intervene.

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    Dear Mr Cameron,

    Its also a war crime to change another country's government by force.

    seems like the western backed rebels (Militia) cannot topple Assad's forces and now we have to invade along with the us.

    Please end the bloodshed this is not worth it.

    Your Regards Anonymous

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    News in BBC reminds of Nazi Germany


  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    will president Obama's and other world leaders change their calculus on the Syria situation as there is growing evidence of chemical weapons being allegedly used by the Syrian regime? i don't think they should sit on the fence any longer. this is a gross violation of ''conventional warfare and the red line has been crossed '' as senator McCain puts it. All options must be exhausted!

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    Quote// 393. Andrew Davis
    BLURB BLURB BLURB ...... if Assad is committing war crimes against his own people, he must be stopped.//


    and by Whom?

    It is none of our business, leave the Middle East to sort out it's own problems and STAY OUT!

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    1 Minute ago
    BANKSTERS funded and started WW1.
    BANKSTERS funded and started WW2.
    BANKSTERS should be the bookies favourite to fund and start WW3.

  • rate this

    Comment number 444.

    432. Al
    Luther_Wesley-Baxter , Germany didnt start WW1 ...Austria did!
    Austria started the initial fire but it was Germany's attack on France via neutral Belgium that brought the British Empire into the fight and turned a Balkan squabble into a world war. German also brought Turkey into the fight which is why ultimately Syria exists in its current borders today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.

    After the whole Iraq could wipe us out in 45mins intelligence they'd better make sure they've got their facts right this time before we get involved in another conflict.

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    Russia will play a big part in all of this. IMO it would be foolish for the UK to fight the Syrian regime along with possible side battles with the Russians, be that an actual physical war or a diplomatic one. Our country is debt ridden and another war will only cripple it further. Syria is a different animal from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and there will be plenty of resistance from Assad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    #358 That can't be true. Mustard gas is a highly reactive substance. It cyclizes in water, then hydrolyzes. There is no way that it can have lasted long enough to produce the effect that you describe. The blisters anyway would have been a reaction to it. Incidentally, our own government tried out Sarin on servicemen at Porton during the 50s. At least one died. Strong element of pot and kettle here

  • rate this

    Comment number 440.

    Sorry,I don't buy any news concerning foreign affairs any more unless it's direct from the source. Have a look around the internet, there is plenty of videos and articles related to atrocities made by the FSA, additionally the FSA is a fraction of the population hm. Concerning western influence, Call me crazy, but look at where Syria is on the map, and all past and current wars come in to sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 439.

    Here we go again in the quest to justify the use of airpower in support of a religious entity in Syria. The misinformation being fed the western media is incredibly dubious and untrustworthy. Most comes from a fanatical religious terrorist group backed by Turkey who have captured Syrian Army depots - including chemical stockpiles - thus they easily use the canisters and then blame Assad's troops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    "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."

    Err, If I recall correctly the rebels/freedom fighters (I forget which they are now) that we intend to arm include significant numbers of militants linked to Al Quaeda. Let's give 'em some guns

  • rate this

    Comment number 437.

    The US / Israel will have plans I guess to invade should the Jihadis start getting their hands on the WMD's. The best outcome for the US is probably a long drawn out stalemate which occupies Iran / Russia and the Jihadis leading eventually to a "controlled / managed" political rebuilding.

    There is a massive danger of total anarchy in such a place as against the "controlled" anarchy of now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    420. steve
    Let's have a little reality c

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

    Maybe it is the way forward.let them get their hands on them, Then we declare is they use them it will lead to a full scale Nuclear Strike on Mecca. It worked in the cold war ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    More like growing rhetoric bent towards an imminent invasion of Syria by allied forces, next stop Iran, good luck, but remember weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of Iraq.

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    @77 Why is it always up to the UK and US to sort out the world's problems?

    Because the solution to these problems can be arranged to benefit imperialism. Which is what UK and US do. repeatedly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    It takes a week to get a doctors appointment in Britain and our roads are third world pothole ridden cart tracks

    I'd prefer to spend money sorting out the UKs problems first

    If Cameron and his MPs are really keen on invading Syria let them all send their first born in

  • rate this

    Comment number 432.

    Luther_Wesley-Baxter , Germany didnt start WW1 ...Austria did!

  • rate this

    Comment number 431.

    Mr Cameron, Tony Blair and George Bush have committed crimes against Humanity. Please concentrate on bringing them to justice as opposed to interfering in what is most likely scare-mongering and further false evidence as the former scientist David Kelly had stated prior to the Iraq war but sadly had then strangely died.


Page 34 of 56


More Middle East stories



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.