A US statement that Syria may have used chemical weapons against regime opponents has triggered strong reaction from UK, European Union and Turkey on Friday.
“It is very disturbing what we are seeing,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told in an interview on Friday. “It’s limited evidence but there’s growing evidence that we have seen too of the use of chemical weapons, probably by the regime.” He added that it is unlikely to prompt a Western military intervention, “I don’t want to see that and I don’t think that is likely to happen, but I think we can step up the pressure on the regime, work with our partners, work with the opposition in order to bring about the right outcome…But we need to go on gathering this evidence and also to send a very clear warning to the Syrian regime about these appalling actions.”
Cameron’s comments came a day after US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel said the US had “some degree of varying confidence” that Syria was using the chemical agent sarin. Sarin is a highly toxic nerve agent that can cause quick paralysis or death.
US President Barack Obama has said that any evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons would be a “game changer.”
“This is extremely serious, and I think what President Obama said was absolutely right – that this should form for the international community a red line for us to do more,” said Cameron.
US intelligence agencies believe that the regime has used chemical weapons, including sarin gas, in the country’s civil war, the White House told Congress in a letter later on Thursday.
The detailed written assessment marks the administration’s first acknowledgment that the bloodletting in Syria has reached a point that might require US military involvement. Officials said however, that there are still questions about evidence and that the assessment doesn’t point to imminent US action.
Obama is under renewed pressure from lawmakers to increase US efforts to oust President Bashar Al Assad. “The Syrians crossed the line the president had said would be a game changer,” Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona told reporters. New York Representative Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that it’s “time for the U.S. and our allies to immediately arm” elements of the Syrian opposition.
The European Union reiterated a request to Damascus to enable a UN chemical weapons probe in Syria. “We hope there will be a United Nations investigation inside Syria to hopefully shed some light on what has really happened,” a spokesman for the EU’s top diplomat Catherine Ashton said after being queried over the EU stand. “The bottom line is this would of course be clearly unacceptable” if proven, said spokesman Michael Mann.
The Syrian opposition urged the United Nations Security Council to take immediate action. “It is time for the U.N. Security Council to act” on Syria, an official from the main opposition National Coalition told AFP on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media. “This is a massive issue, and the Security Council’s paralysis over Syria is no excuse,” the Coalition official said.
Turkey said any use of chemical weapons “take the crisis to another level”, but remained cautious about any foreign military intervention in the conflict on its border.
Two Syrian officials denied that government forces had used chemical weapons against rebels, Damascus’ first response to US. assertions that it had.
A government official said President Bashar Al Assad’s military “did not and will not use chemical weapons even if it had them.” He instead accused opposition forces of using them in a March attack on the village of Khan al-Assad outside of the northern city of Aleppo.