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Middle east

Alleged chemical attacks in Syria an 'obscenity', says US

© Photo: AFP

Video by Catherine VIETTE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-08-27

Western powers Monday ramped up pressure on Syria over an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus that reportedly killed hundreds of civilians last week, but what military intervention will follow the bellicose rhetoric remains to be seen.

Western powers on Monday ramped up pressure on Syria over an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus that reportedly killed hundreds of civilians last week, but what military intervention will follow the bellicose rhetoric remains to be seen.

United Nations inspectors visited the site of the suspected August 21 attack for the first time Monday as US Secretary of State John Kerry described the attacks as "undeniable" and a “moral obscenity”.

“Moreover, we know that the Syrian regime maintains custody of these chemical weapons. We know that the Syrian regime has the capacity to do this with rockets,” Kerry said, stopping short of definitively blaming President Bashar al-Assad for the killings.

Earlier in the day, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel warned the US was “looking at all options” regarding the situation in Syria.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said any intervention in Syria without a UN Security Council resolution would be a “very grave violation” of international law.

Meanwhile, Syrian Information Minister Omran Ahed Zo’bi rejected claims the Syrian army was behind the chemical attacks.

“If there have been chemical weapon attacks in Syria, it is the terrorist groups who are responsible,” Zo’bi told FRANCE 24 in an exclusive interview in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

The minister added that Turkey or Saudi Arabia could have provided the chemical weapons, and the means to deploy them, to rebels.

Opposition plagued by division

William Jordan, the former US diplomat to Damascus, said that the US was ready for a military intervention, but was still pursuing all the diplomatic channels available.

“What the [Obama] administration is trying to do while the UN report is being put together, and while there are discussions going on with the Russians about next steps, is put on a show of force in the Mediterranean,” Jordan told FRANCE 24.

“The US has a lot of other partners it can put a coalition together with. We don’t have to go through the UN Security Council. In fact, we’ve seen that in the past. Kosovo was an example where the West basically stood up to the Russians and said, ‘fine we’ll go down another route’,” he added.

Emma Suleiman, a spokesperson for the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said she had asked the international community to impose a military no-fly zone or a military intervention in Syria for the past two years.

Others pointed to the divisions plaguing Syria’s main opposition group as proof that any international military intervention was still premature.

“What we are seeing is only the stepping up of rhetoric. But there is no certainty about who would step in to fill the political void left by Assad,” Frédéric Pichon, a French Syria expert said. “The prerequisites are not in place for a military intervention, even one outside the UN channels.”

Enter drones?

There was also debate about what form a future intervention could take, though a ground assault by foreign forces was largely dismissed.

Isabelle Lasserre, a security and defence reporter with the French daily Le Figaro, said that target strikes from US navy carriers, or a no-fly zone, were the likeliest possibilities.

“A no-fly zone could certainly protect civilians, but not just civilians, because it would also allow cover for soldiers fighting for the Free Syrian Army… it would allow them to operate with a little more liberty,” she said.

Pichon said that US drone strikes were also a possibility in view of a recent vote by US lawmakers approving the un-manned vehicles for military actions in Syria.

Date created : 2013-08-26

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