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Jaafari said that the attacks took place on Aug. 22, 24 and 25 in the suburbs of Damascus and that the rebels used “close to what we call the nerve gas sarin.”
He denied that the Syrian regime was responsible for the apparent chemical attack on Aug. 21 that killed so many civilians.
Foreign Policy magazine reported Wednesday that U.S. intelligence intercepted panicked communications between an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense and the leader of a chemical weapons unit in the immediate aftermath of the Aug. 21 attack. The phone calls are considered decisive evidence against the Assad regime, but they also could raise questions about who controlled the weapons or ordered their use, the magazine reported.
“There’s the possibility it’s an accident. There’s a possibility that it’s a rogue commander on the ground who’s really angry, or the Assad regime simply didn’t believe the red line would spur action,” said Jeremy Shapiro, a visiting fellow in foreign policy studies at Brookings Institution.
“All I’m saying is it’s not that hard to construct an explanation,” Shapiro said. “But what we really have is some pretty solid data on the ground that they did do it, so motivation is just a parlor game at that point.”
The administration ultimately holds Assad accountable for the use of chemical weapons against his own people “regardless of where the command and control lies,” said Harf of the State Department.
Call from Congress
Members of Congress are expected to receive a classified briefing Thursday on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, followed by the release of unclassified details to the public later this week. Some lawmakers already have expressed reluctance to support military action in Syria.
In a letter to the president on Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner said Obama would need to give Congress and the public a clear explanation of U.S. policy and objectives to secure support for any Syrian strike.
Boehner, R-Ohio, said he’s spoken to the chairmen of the national security committees, and while they’ve received some outreach from the administration, it hasn’t yet reached the level of substantive consultation.
“After spending the last 12 years fighting those who seek to harm our fellow citizens, our interests and our allies, we all have a greater appreciation of what it means for our country to enter into conflict,” Boehner wrote. “It will take that public support and congressional will to sustain the administration’s efforts, and our military, as well as their families, deserve to have the confidence that we collectively have their backs — and a thorough strategy in place.”
Russia, which has expressed deep doubt about any attack on Syria in the coming days, on Tuesday evacuated about 200 Russian and regional citizens from Syria. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted: “The West behaves toward the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade.”
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has criticized several times the “lack of alternative to a diplomatic solution” and said that “attempts for a military solution will lead only to a further destabilization of the situation in the country and the region.”
Those leaving had requested evacuation. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that more than 30,000 Russians remain in Syria.
Meanwhile, Israelis and others asked about the possibility of unintended consequences.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his inner circle to discuss Syria, but details of that meeting were not immediately available. The Israeli newspaper website Haaretz noted that while support for an attack on Syria is broad, it may be fragile.
“The international legitimacy is based on the belief that an attack by the U.S. (perhaps together with British and French forces) will be measured, clean and with a low number of losses. But past experience has already proven that there is no such thing as a clean attack with no losses,” Haaretz said.