The White House has said it has conclusive evidence that Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons against opposition fighters.
After months of investigation, Obama administration officials said that chemical weapons have been used “on a small-scale” to kill up to 150 people, crossing what President Barack Obama had marked as a “red line” for US intervention in the conflict.
Mr Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said the president had decided to provide “direct military support” to the opposition in the light of the evidence.
But he did not specify whether the support would include lethal aid, such as weapons, which would mark a reversal of Mr Obama’s resistance to arming the rebels.
Mr Rhodes said the shift came after an intelligence community assessment showed “the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year”.
“The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete,” he added.
US officials said they have seen no evidence that opposition fighters have used such weapons.
So far, US policy has focused entirely on providing the opposition with non-lethal assistance and humanitarian aid.
The White House said the US would “make decisions on our own timeline” and would share its intelligence with the international community and the United Nations.
“We are working with allies to present a credible, evidentiary case to share with the international community and the public,” Mr Rhodes said.
Mr Obama will discuss the assessments, along with wider problems in Syria, next week during the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.
Mr Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin – Mr Assad’s closest international ally – will hold a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of the summit, where the US leader is expected to press his Russian counterpart to drop his political and military support for the Syrian government.
“We believe that Russia and all members of the international community should be concerned about the use of chemical weapons,” Mr Rhodes said.
Mr Rhodes stressed the US was still working towards a political settlement, seeking to bring together the regime and the opposition for peace talks.
Syria has been locked in a bloody civil war for more than two years. The UN estimates more than 93,000 people have been killed.
Peaceful protests against Mr Assad turned into an armed rebellion and then morphed into civil war.
Since the start of the demonstrations, the average monthly number of documented killings has risen from around 1,000 per month in the summer of 2011 to an average of more than 5,000 per month since last July.
At its height from July to October 2012, the number of killings rose above 6,000 per month.
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Article source: http://news.sky.com/story/1103458