'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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1050.

    Europeans have travelled to fight with Al-Qaeda against the Syrian government.
    They have European passports and can travel freely in the EU.
    The will have experience of combat, the use explosives and guns.
    They will have access to guns and explosives supplied by the US and UK.

    No need to worry about us going to war, eventually it will come to us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1049.

    Only war mongering propaganda to see here folks... move along now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1048.

    The world's media drip feed the populace about Syria so that when the US/UK forces (or the UN; same principle & aims!) intervene we all feel good about it. Nominatwed British Army and RAF units have been on standby to go into Syria since November 2012.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1047.

    @1039 petie

    Yeah, ain't war just fun!
    Go back to your playstation and leave the thinking to adults who give a damn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1046.


    Credibility with the arab world? Ah yes bastions of free speech, democracy. Look how egypt and libya have turned out. Look at those model countries saudi arabia, bahrain and iran. If we take on little syria, we have to take all those on in order to not be hypocrits, actually we cant just sort out muslim dictatorships, it must be all, so thatll be north korea, oh and china too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1045.

    The difference between deploying sarin and standard warfare aka "the red line" is that sarin is classified as a weapon of mass destruction in UNR687. Assad knows this and so by deploying the weapon he is in breach of the agreements set out.

    But realistically it is a civil war and whichever side we fall on it will not help the situation at all. We can't save them all...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1044.

    Syrian rebels, We're sorry. Our leaders (suits and string-pullers) have given us reason to not trust them re our involvement in the ME. And so have you and your neighbors. We’ll watch and check back in 6 months. Send many more pics w a variety of victims and w months in btwn. Also send detailed info about who you - each & all of you - are. And how you're working together or not, past & present.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1043.

    Obamas red line has been crossed and the west must take action to destroy those things before either extremists get hold of them or Assad uses them on his own people.
    In my view both of those possibilities are as horrendous as each other.
    Personally I think we should have intervened earlier because then Syrians would not have seen the need to join extremist groups!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1042.

    Nothing good will come of interfering in other peoples problem. We (the west) are detested and hated in that part of the world and more than a few dream of killing us all in the name of Islam. We will be hated for interfering and hated for not interfering. Let the likes of Saudi Arabia deal with it instead of watching them sit on their hands while we wash our hands of that region and good riddence

  • rate this

    Comment number 1041.

    I think anyone who says using chemical weapons isn't a reason for intervention needs to learn about how dangerous chemical weapons are. If the chemicals are virulent enough they can spread very long distances and people who have nothing to do with the war end up hurt/injured. Chemical weapons are a very serious issue. I'm not saying jump in and intervene, but an thorough investigation must be made

  • rate this

    Comment number 1040.

    So do I. But, courtesy demands it. Xx

    Wow. Well done. That's not much to withhold now is it. I prefer a small amount, it's symbolic. A shame it's not 0.0%.

  • Comment number 1039.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1038.

    Here's what will happen. We'll go in and help those genuinely interested in peace win. Then they'll be overthrown by the fanatics and we'll be in a worse situation than ever. If only there was something like, I don't know .... history to learn from.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1037.

    1. WMD story started by faceless Israeli.
    2. U.S chicken hawk defense secretary spreads the Israeli rumour without evidence.
    3. BBC runs with it "FRONT PAGE" Hot scoop

    For the love of all good and gracious stop paying your T.V license. Jeez

  • rate this

    Comment number 1036.

    The US seem to be pretty slow to pick up on things. US you backed the Mujarhadeen in Afghanstan with weapons they came back to bite the hand that fed them. US you backed the chechen rebels in the Caucuas's they came back to bite the hand that fed them. Time to wise up US do not supply arms to Jihadists stay out of Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1035.

    This is a no win situation for anyone,if the west sends in troops to help terrorists will use it as western aggression,if no troops are sent terrorists will say the west just lets innocent people die,whatever the outcombe the situation will be used for propaganda,we can thank Blair and Bush for this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1034.

    Western countries should just stay out. These people hate us. Why waste our money and lives when we should be policing our borders, minimizing immigration and increasing native birth rates to solve our ageing population issue? Instead we'll get some nutter blow himself up in Piccadilly. For what? Let them kill each other or let China sort it out. I thought they were so keen on being a major player

  • rate this

    Comment number 1033.

    1016. zdan

    I think you are right. Which is a sad state of what the UK has become - spineless

  • rate this

    Comment number 1032.

    @ 758 "Let the U.S.A deal with this...this is not our war"

    So the USA is expected to deal with the problem with no UK or European support? Well fair enough I guess they have the hardware and the troops to do it. They can ride in and sacrifice their treasure and manpower to keep the UK safe. Syria , by the way, is principally a UK and French construct post WW1. The French know that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1031.


    I might not give two craps about Syria or it's population. But what I do care about is the wasting of British lives - and it is always the poor people, how often to you find the children of the elite or MPs on the front line? And the wasting of our tax money on nothing but the funding of the industrial military complex - what's the bet Academi where the first to mention WMDs in Syria?


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