In Depth

US says Syrian regime has used chemical weapons twice

Assad crosses Obama's 'red line' by using sarin gas, but president moving 'cautiously' to intervene

THE US is moving "cautiously" towards military intervention in Syria's bloody civil war following the revelation that the Assad regime has almost certainly used chemical weapons against the rebels.

While there have been reports about the regime using chemical weapons in Syria for some time, says the National Review Online, there now appears to be a "consensus that the Assad government has used them".

US intelligence has concluded "with some confidence" that the weapons – most likely sarin gas – have been employed in a series of small scale attacks in recent months. The conclusion is based on "physiological evidence" as well as eyewitness reports.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi yesterday, Chuck Hagel (pictured), the US Secretary of Defense, said the conclusion had been reached in "the past 24 hours". He added that the use of sarin gas "violates every convention of warfare".

His statement was backed up several hours later by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said chemical weapons were believed to have been used by the regime in two separate attacks.

The US's hardening conviction that chemical weapons have been used is hugely significant because President Obama has described the issue variously as a "game changer" and a "red line" for America. If the Syrian regime crossed that line, he warned, it would "change the equation" regarding the possibility of US intervention.

Yesterday, Republicans in the US Congress insisted the 'red line' had been crossed and warned that if there is no retribution from the West the regime will be "emboldened".

But Obama doesn't want to go to war in Syria, says the BBC's Mark Mardell. He regards it as "too complex, too difficult, too uncertain".

Mardell writes: "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."

Asked about the issue today, David Cameron said there is "limited but growing" evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons. The PM called the evidence "very disturbing", adding that it would constitute a war crime.

British intelligence has been convinced for some time that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. A Foreign Office spokesperson told The Guardian: "We have limited but persuasive information from various sources showing chemical weapon use in Syria, including sarin. This is extremely concerning. Use of chemical weapons is a war crime. We have briefed our allies, partners and the UN on this information and we are working actively to get more and better information."

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