The United States has said that there is evidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons “on a small scale” against anti-government forces and civilians.
If proven correct, the claim could be highly significant, as President Obama described the potential use of chemical weapons by the Syrians as a “red line” which could trigger US involvement in the Syrian war.
However the US government has qualified the claims, saying in a letter to Senators that it has “varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.”
The White House has urged caution, saying that the “chain of custody” of the soil samples providing evidence of the claim was unclear. Intelligence analysts have not been able to confirm the circumstances under which the sarin was used. However the letter added:
“We do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime.”
The use of chemical weapons is illegal under international law and constitutes a war crime.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke to the medai about the claims on Thursday, but stressed that they needed to be investigated further, saying:
“We need all the facts. We need all the information. What I’ve just given you is what our intelligence community has said they know. As I also said, they are still assessing, and they are still looking at what happened, who was responsible and the other specifics that we’ll need.”