'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 1110.

    No. 1104 has it occurred to you that Muslims are not one homogeneous group, in the same way I wouldn't conflate all Christians with Bible-bashing homophobic fundamentalists? Islamic rule is not the same as jihadism. With your logic we would never do anything to intervene ever again, even if there were another Holocaust or genocide on our doorstep.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1109.

    It appears the only way we are going to put a stop to this misrepresentation issued by out of control government would be for us all to refuse to pay for a TV license and stop paying our tax bills! I guarantee they won’t use their own money to fund this evil nonsense!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1108.

    In any civilized state, war mongering would be considered treason. War mongering is agitating for massive damage against your own people. Sure, most of those folks don't matter, being the kids of poor folk. Even so, treason is betraying your country, rich and poor alike. War mongers fit the bill. They make war against everyone, and they love it.

    Lock 'em up, throw away the key. It's the only way.

  • Comment number 1107.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1106.

    Judging by the war-drums beating out of No.10,
    I can't tell if it's David Cameron's 1'st term or, Tony Blair's 4th???

  • rate this

    Comment number 1105.

    420 Steve

    "70,000 have already died in the Syrian Civil War.
    The country is dissolving into chaos"

    I'd have great trouble finding the country on a map. No doubt so would millions of others. Do you know where it is? So why should we bother?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1104.

    1090. cycleguy -The same line was said about people spoke out about the Iraq war, we were apologists for a mass murderer and appeasers. Funny how it all played out, the WMD lies never bore out and the Arab spring is nothing more than a front for Jihadists and Islamic rule, that's fine if the Muslims want that type of rule and bigotry. But not with our troops blood or our taxes. Not in my name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1103.

    all i know is the world is a mess and i cant see it getting any better

  • rate this

    Comment number 1102.

    seeing as your so concerned about this subject I assume you'll be volunteering for military service to go and help out and put your life on the line for this cause that you so ferverently believe in.
    Or if your too old to serve your country then I assume you'll have no problem signing your kids up for the Army, assuming if they're old enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1101.


    A conspiracy is just that....until it becomes a reality
    Look no further than the WMD "conspiracy" in Iraq
    Not so long ago, surely you remember
    Right Ben, we shoild charge in there & sort it out like we did in Iraq/Afgh/Libya
    I mean...we good at it right??

    Chemical Weapons(WMD) = just more propoganda & lies

  • rate this

    Comment number 1100.

    1070. beammeup
    I don't know...I had such hope for the new millennium. Then everything went crazy - beyond recognition.
    Hi Beam hope you are well.
    It is probably down to that bug they had us chasing our tales over, oh no, sorry, that didn't happen did it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1099.

    That Tony Blair walks free, and is interviewed as a dignitary by the corporate media, is an indelible stain on western values, a disgrace to the idea of decency in public life.

    Are there to be no sanctions against those who recklessly rally for war?

    If you shout "fire!" in a theatre, you're held accountable.

    Why can politicians and journalists shout "war" with impunity?

    It's the money, right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1098.

    1084. Ben - It is not a matter of money over life. As it stands the European economy is basically stagnant. This is despite the millions of non-Europeans that have been imported that supposedly increases wealth for all. If you haven't noticed the NHS and housing are creaking thanks to all the freebies we have been handing out to world's excess population. We should look to our own survival.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1097.

    Rach @1041
    "thorough investigation"

    Obama's words can and should be interpreted as non-simplistic, reserving actual 'red-line' criteria, with focus on danger to neighbours as well as the balance of outrage within Syria

    As to "hurt and injured", with 70-100,000 dead, homes and lives wrecked, and hundreds of thousands displaced, where is the 'thorough investigation' of democratic deficit?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1096.

    Listening to Cameron going on about Democracy when the 3 main parties policy is made up by Bankers, other experts VERBOTEN, is pathetic. Hague goes on about human rights but belongs to a party who would love to trash our own human rights due to a few islamist extremists. We cannot preach to anyone in the world given the nature of our own politics today. The City has destroyed democracy here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1095.

    I hope some British Prime Minister, in 30 or 50 years time, doesn't have to make a public apology for what "we" have been up to the naughties and teens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1094.

    This is reminiscent of Iraq. There is something quite desperate about the desire for the US and the UK to get regime change in Syria.
    I do not believe Assad has used chemical weapons -he is not that stupid.
    The terrible situation in Syria is largely down to the chaotic way in which the West has interfered with the various rebel factions and have made things worse. See Robert Fisk -Independent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1093.

    Of course we need to intervene, this situation has got out of hand and if we don't then the rebels will get hold the chemical weapons and Al-Qaeda supported rebels with chemical weapons not a good idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1092.

    Not our problem let us keep clear. If any politicians want to intervene let them do it personally and put themselves in harms way. This should not be another conflict between peoples of whom we know nothing that we get involved in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1091.

    From Left to Right, the answer to any intervention is no. This issue goes beyond party politics, its about past experiences and past lies told by MPs and companies with hidden agendas who urge Military aid and intervention. We have massive social and economic problems here and in the US, you have no mandate for any dealings with Syria Cameron. If you want to interfere ask the public through a vote


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