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U.S. Mulls How to Investigate New Syria Chemical Claims

A Syrian government soldier stands guard in the town of Maalula last week. The United States on Monday said it is deciding how to investigate new claims that a hazardous substance was used during battle in Syria. A Syrian government soldier stands guard in the town of Maalula last week. The United States on Monday said it is deciding how to investigate new claims that a hazardous substance was used during battle in Syria. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Obama administration is deciding how to look into new reports that a hazardous substance was employed during combat in Syria.

"We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical -- probably chlorine -- in Syria this month in the opposition-dominated village of Kfar Zeita. We are examining allegations that the government was responsible," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a Monday press briefing.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime has blamed its opponents for any use of chemical arms in the country's three-year-old civil war. Still, the government agreed to relinquish roughly 1,300 metric tons of its own stockpiled warfare agents after sarin nerve gas killed hundreds of people last summer in a rebel-held residential area, prompting international discussion of a possible military response.

"Obviously, there needs to be an investigation of what’s happened here," Psaki said. "We're still determining what the best mechanism is to get to the bottom of the facts."

She said the United States would work to identify any chemicals released in battle, and then consult with the Chemical Weapons Convention's implementing agency to assess possible breaches of the treaty that Damascus joined in October.

The spokeswoman declined to comment, though, on whether an investigation of the chemical-strike reports would necessarily fall under the purview of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The agency could launch a probe only at a member nation's request.

Speaking on background to CNN, one U.S. government insider said the Obama administration believes the incidents involved, "at a minimum, concentrated chlorine dropped from helicopters."

"That could only be the regime," the source said.

Another insider said the apparent attacks demand a response, but there is "not a consensus" on how to proceed. "If we equate it to a chemical attack then the question becomes what are we going to do about it?" the official said. "I don't think we have figured that out yet."

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