Assad 'may have used gas' against Syrian rebels
Was poisonous gas Agent 15 used on rebels to test America's chemical weapons ultimatum?
THERE are suggestions the Syrian military attacked its own citizens with a poisonous gas called Agent 15 last month, a move described by an Israeli intelligence agent as a provocative test to gauge the reaction of the US and its allies.
A "secret State Department cable" obtained by Foreign Policy magazine suggests it is "likely" President Assad’s forces used gas in the city of Homs on 23 December. The cable carries the signature of the US consul general in Istanbul, Scott Frederic Kilner, and was sent to the State Department in Washington last week.
The report was triggered by an investigation of claims made by Syria’s rebels that gas has been used and is based on interviews with "activists, doctors and defectors". Agent 15 is an odourless “incapacitating agent” which was first developed in the 1960s.
The Times says an Obama administration official who has seen the report says it is not absolutely certain gas has been used, but Syrian forces opposed to Assad made a "compelling case" they were attacked with Agent 15 in Homs.
That argument is given further credence by Professor Alastair Hay, an expert in toxicology at the University of Leeds, who examined video footage of victims of the alleged gas attack. Hay told the Times the "symptoms" on display were "consistent with something like Adamsite or another sternutator agent.
"The fact that it's several people suggests that something has been released in the vicinity and affected a group of people and they are all absolutely terrified."
A senior Israeli intelligence officer told The Times the incident in Homs was "a testing of the waters" and a sign that Assad is "not playing around". But absolute proof of the attack is proving elusive.
The Obama administration "discounted the possibility" that gas had been used in Syria in a statement released on Tuesday evening, according to the New York Times. However, the White House and the State Department "declined to comment directly on the cable" and did not rule out entirely the possibility that some form of "chemical agent" had been used.
Writing in the New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian questions the secret cable’s "overall credibility" and says he can see no "compelling case" that a gas like Agent 15 was used in Homs.
But in an editorial, The Times argues that whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the claim, it must be investigated thoroughly. "Its implications for the suffering of Syria’s people and the security of neighbouring states are literally incalculable," the paper says.