SYRIA CRISIS: ‘High Confidence’ Chemical Weapons Used
(CNN) — Syria warned the United States on Friday that it is prepared to confront any aggression against the war-torn nation.
The challenge came as Western powers debated the use of military force against Syria’s government in response to a chemical weapons attack in Damascus’ suburbs last week.
On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said there’s no doubt that Syria launched chemical weapons attacks against its own people. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has blamed the August 21 attack on rebels.
— Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that U.S. intelligence information found that 1,429 people were killed in last week’s chemical weapons attack in Syria, including at least 426 children.
— A preliminary U.S. government assessment asserted “with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs.” Kerry said the question now is “what are we … in the world going to do about it.”
— The United States says in an assessment released Friday that it has “intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel … were preparing chemical weapons munitions prior to” what Washington believes was a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21.
— Kerry said Syrian officials made preparations for chemical weapons use for three days prior to the August 21 attack, and that rockets were launched from areas controlled by the Syrian regime and landed in areas controlled by the opposition or contested.
— A preliminary U.S. government assessment said 100 videos connected to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria “show large numbers of bodies exhibiting physical signs consistent with, but not unique to, nerve agent exposure.”
— Some videos show what appear to be fatalities “with no visible injuries” — which is “consistent with death from chemical weapons, and inconsistent with death from small-arms, high-explosive munitions or blister agents,” said the government assessment.
— Kerry said Friday that U.S. officials make “our own decisions on our own timelines, based on our own values and interests” in signaling a possible military response to last week’s chemical weapons attack in Syria.
–The United States “will not repeat” justifying a military campaign on false intelligence, referring to the Iraq war under President George W. Bush, in detailing information about the chemical weapons attack in Syria, Kerry said.
— A U.S. military response to last week’s chemical weapons attack in Syria “will not involve boots on the ground” or be open-ended, Kerry said Friday, adding that America will not assume responsibility for Syria’s civil war.
— Citing support from the Arab League, Turkey and France, Kerry said Friday that “we are not alone in our will to do something about” last week’s chemical weapons attack in Syria that he blamed on al-Assad’s regime.
— Obama administration officials are holding a conference call about Syria with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, a Senate source told CNN.
— Seven people were killed and dozens were hurt Monday when a bomb hit a school in northern Syria, a strike anti-government activists believe was conducted with chemical weaponry.
— The U.N. mission inspecting a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria has completed its collection of samples, said Martin Nesirky, spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general said Friday. Nesirky told reporters that inspectors visited a government military hospital in Damascus and will be leaving Syria on Saturday.
— President Barack Obama met his National Security Council oFriday on the alleged chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime last week, a White House official said.
— U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon intends to consult with countries at the United Nations on developments in Syria and is scheduled to meet with permanent members of the U.N. Security Council at noon Friday, his spokesperson said.
— Former President George W. Bush, in an interview, said President Barack Obama has a “tough choice to make” on potential U.S. military action against Syria’s president. “If he decides to use our military, he’ll have the greatest military ever backing him up,” Bush said in an appearance on Fox News.
— Former President Jimmy Carter said “a punitive military response without a U.N. Security Council mandate or broad support from NATO and the Arab League would be illegal under international law and unlikely to alter the course of the war.”
— The Obama administration will release on Friday declassified intelligence backing up the U.S. government assessment that the Syrian regime was responsible for a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus last week, a senior administration official said. The administration has said that the information would be made public by the end of the week.
— Half of Americans say they oppose possible U.S. military action against Syria, according to a new national poll. And nearly eight in 10 of those questioned in an NBC News survey released Friday morning say President Barack Obama should be required to get congressional approval before launching any military attack against al-Assad’s forces.
— The British parliament vote to reject military action in Syria reflects “the majority opinion in Europe as a whole, not just Britain,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s senior foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters in Vladivostok Friday, according to the Kremlin’s press office.
— British Prime Minister David Cameron said it is important for the United Kingdom to have a “robust response to the use of chemical weapons and there are a series of things that (Britain) will continue to do. But, he said, British involvement in a military action “won’t be happening.”
— French President Francois Hollande told newspaper Le Monde that a possible military intervention should be limited and not have the goal of overthrowing al-Assad.
— The Syrian army and its people will respond to any attack and are ready to confront any form of military aggression by superpowers against the country, Syria’s defense minister, Fahd Jasem al-Freij, said during a telephone call with his Iranian counterpart, Hussein Dehghan, Syrian state news agency SANA, reported Friday.
— Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, warned the United States and its allies against any attack on Syria, saying any new military operation in the region would inflict serious damage and would only benefit Israel, the Iranian state news agency IRNA, reported Friday.
— Washington respects a vote by the British parliament rejecting a strong response to recent developments in Syria, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Friday. “Every nation has a responsibility to make their own decisions, and we respect that of any nation,” he told journalists in the Philippine capital, Manila. The United States is seeking “an international collaboration and effort” on “whatever decision is taken” to address the Syrian crisis.
— The United States may have to take unilateral action against Syria after British lawmakers voted down a proposal for military action, a senior U.S. official said.
— Cameron was dealt a blow Thursday in his push for a strong response, including possible military action, against Syria when the House of Commons rejected the measure.
— The vote, 285 to 272, came just minutes after members of Parliament voted down a Labour Party motion calling for additional time for U.N. weapons inspectors to gather evidence over whether al-Assad’s forces used chemical weapons in suburban Damascus.
— A closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council ended with no agreement on a resolution to address the crisis in Syria, a Western diplomat told CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh on condition of anonymity. “It was clear there was no meeting of minds, and no agreement on the text. It is clear that our approaches are very different and we are taking stock” of the next steps, the diplomat said.
— Members of the Security Council expect U.N. weapons inspectors to brief Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shortly after they depart Syria on Saturday. Ban, in turn, will swiftly brief the Security Council on the findings, the diplomat said.
— Cameron opened the emergency session of the House of Commons on Syria Thursday by saying the debate is about “how to respond to one of most abhorrent uses of chemical weapons in a century” — not about regime change or invasion.
— Cameron told the House of Commons that the UK government would not act without first hearing from U.N. weapons inspectors, giving the United Nations a chance to weigh in and Parliament to have a vote.
— Failing to act would give al-Assad a signal that he could use such weapons “with impunity, Cameron said.
— The British government on Thursday published a summary of its intelligence assessment on Syria’s alleged chemical weapons use, arguing that at least 350 people died in an attack in the Damascus area on August 21, and that there is no plausible culprit other than the Syrian government. It is “highly likely” that the Syrian government was behind the attack, the report said.
— The British government also published its legal reasoning for a strike on Syria Thursday, saying that it would be justified on humanitarian grounds.
— “The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is a serious crime of international concern, as a breach of the customary international law prohibition on use of chemical weapons, and amounts to a war crime and a crime against humanity,” the UK government’s statement read. “However, the legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention; the aim is to relieve humanitarian suffering by deterring or disrupting the further use of chemical weapons.”
— British members of parliament received an open letter from the Syrian government Thursday, urging them not to take any military action against Syria, the press office for House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said.
— The Syrian letter to British lawmakers compared the current situation to the march to war against Iraq a decade ago, and riffing on Shakespeare, saying: “If you bomb us, shall we not bleed?” It also says an attack on Syria would be illegal, and “would automatically strengthen our common enemy, al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
— Al-Assad vowed Thursday to defend against any Western military attack. “The threats of launching an aggression against Syria will increase its commitments,” and “Syria will defend itself against any aggression,” he said, according to Syrian state TV.
— U.N. inspectors entered the eastern part of the Ghouta region outside Damascus on Thursday, Syrian activists said. The Ghouta area was hit by the August 21 attack, activists say.
— Al-Assad’s claim that rebels were behind the August 21 chemical attack is impossible, Obama said on “PBS NewsHour” Wednesday. “We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks,” Obama said. “We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences.”
— Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who along with President George W. Bush helped send the U.S. military into action in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the Fox Business Network on Wednesday that the White House has yet to justify potential strikes in Syria.