Syrian Chemical Arms Use Seen in Two Cases, State Department Says

A senior Obama administration official on Wednesday said limited quantities of chemical warfare agent had been employed on no fewer than two occasions in Syria's civil war, but she did not pin responsibility on either Bashar Assad's regime or opposition forces, Agence France-Presse reported.

"The intelligence community has agreed with varying levels of confidence that chemical weapons were used in small amounts in at least two instances in Syria,” Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“But having high confidence up in the intelligence community, for which I have great admiration, is not in fact all that one needs to take some of the actions that many people have contemplated,” Sherman said. “We have unfortunate experience in our history, where we've taken action and it turned out that the intelligence assessment was either misinterpreted or not accurate.”

President Obama on Thursday said he had ruled out no possible means of responding to Syrian chemical arms threats, Reuters reported.

"I preserve the options of taking additional steps, both diplomatic and military, because those chemical weapons inside of Syria also threaten our security over the long term as well as our allies and friends and neighbors," he said.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Democratic and Republican members on Wednesday submitted a bill to arm and train "vetted Syrian [rebel] groups," CNN reported.

Panel Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) stated: "Vital national interests are at stake and we cannot watch from the sidelines as the Iranian presence in Syria grows, a growing refugee crisis threatens to destabilize the region, chemical weapons are used against the Syrian people, and al-Qaida-affiliated groups take root there."

A U.N. General Assembly call for a peaceful resolution to the Syrian civil war received endorsement on Wednesday in a 107-12 vote, the New York Times reported. Fifty-nine governments took no stance, indicating reservations about the usefulness of the nonbinding measure's role in promoting U.S.-Russian efforts to organize a peace conference, according to the newspaper.

Meanwhile, a high-level Israeli government insider on Wednesday said his country "is determined to continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah,” the Times reported. Tel Aviv has received credit for conducting air attacks in Syria earlier this month against two ballistic missile shipments to the militant group, prompting Damascus to threaten reprisal.

The Israeli source added: "If Syrian President Assad reacts by attacking Israel, or tries to strike Israel through his terrorist proxies, he will risk forfeiting his regime, for Israel will retaliate.”

May 16, 2013
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A senior Obama administration official on Wednesday said limited quantities of chemical warfare agent had been employed on no fewer than two occasions in Syria's civil war, but she did not pin responsibility on either Bashar Assad's regime or opposition forces, Agence France-Presse reported.

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