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Updated: April 27, 2013 00:58 IST

U.S. claim on chemical weapons may escalate Syrian conflict

Atul Aneja
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A wounded Syrian man holds his injured son after an air raid on the town of Saraqeb in the province of Idlib on Thursday.
AP A wounded Syrian man holds his injured son after an air raid on the town of Saraqeb in the province of Idlib on Thursday.

Many loopholes in American allegations: observers

The conflict in Syria may be poised for a sharp escalation, after the U.S. stopped short of affirming that Damascus had used chemical weapons to counter the armed opposition.

During a visit to Abu Dhabi, U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the American intelligence community had determined “with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin”.

He added that if confirmed, these reports would be a “game changer” in defining U.S.’ role in the conflict. The U.S. has been largely observing the conflict from the sidelines, but President Barack Obama had earlier warned that the Syrian government would be breaching a “red line” if it used chemical weapons.

Analysts point out that a firm declaration by the U.S. that Damascus had indeed used chemical weapons would bolster the case for Washington’s direct military intervention in the Syrian conflict.

Observers say there are many loopholes in the string of allegations made against Syria. On Thursday, Miguel E Rodriguez, Assistant to the U.S. President and Director, Office of Legislative Affairs, claimed that based on an analysis of “physiological samples”, the White House had made a reassessment that Mr. Assad had used chemical weapons. But in the programme that she anchors, CNN’s chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour quoted her sources as saying physicians working with the opposition Free Syrian Army had gathered blood samples from alleged chemical warfare victims and supplied them to the U.S. intelligence. Besides, blood samples do not rule out the possibility of a “false flag” attack, where the regime is blamed for an attack perpetrated by its foes.

Inconclusive

The highly indicative but inconclusive assessment by the U.S. has triggered a chain of events. The Americans have notified the United Nations and its Secretary-General about the alleged use of chemical weapons, Russia Today reported. In his response, the spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon said “the United Nations is not in a position to comment on assessments based on national intelligence information”. But he added that a team of U.N. advisers “have been in contact with the U.S. authorities on the latest developments”.

Syrian authorities have so far been unhappy with the position that the U.N. has adopted. In March, Syria had requested a U.N. probe, backed by Russia, on the alleged use of chemical weapons by the armed opposition in the village of Khan al-Assal near Aleppo. In response, the U.N. decided not to include Russian and Chinese experts in the probe team, apparently to avoid bias— a position that caused Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s U.N. envoy, to comment that following this logic he “would recommend excluding all NATO countries too”.

The U.N. also decided to deploy throughout the country instead of at the Khan al-Assal site alone, triggering Syria’s decision to deny entry to the team of experts, citing apprehensions that the visiting panel’s findings could become the justification for an Iraq-style invasion.

“Syria cannot accept such manoeuvres on the part of the U.N. Secretariat General, bearing in mind the negative role that it played in Iraq and which cleared the way for the American invasion,” a Syrian Foreign Ministry official was earlier quoted as saying.

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