Washington Times on August 21, 2013, reported that President Obama’s “red line” for Syria is once again being tested after rebel forces said Wednesday that the regime of President Bashar Assad used poison gas to attack civilians near Damascus, killing potentially hundreds in what could turn out to be the deadliest deployment of chemical weapons yet. Excerpts below:
Adding to the pressure on the White House were videos supplied by rebels showing victims convulsing and choking, and powerful photos of children wrapped in clean white shrouds, lined shoulder to shoulder with their dead faces visible.
The White House said it was trying to confirm the reports independently but that the allegations pose a test for the embattled Mr. Assad, who has said he wants to disprove allegations of chemical weapons attacks.
“It’s time for them to live up to that claim,” White House spokesmanJosh Earnest told reporters. “And if they actually are interested in getting to the bottom of the use of chemical weapons and whether or not that’s occurred in Syria, then they will allow the U.N.. investigative team that’s already in Syria to access the site where chemical weapons may have been used.”
Rebels gave various estimates of the death toll from the artillery fire, ranging from the low hundreds to more than 1,300.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session to call for a “thorough, impartial and prompt investigation” of the charges against Syria.
News organizations said it was impossible to verify either the death toll reports or the nature of the attack.
The reports emerged almost a year to the day after Mr. Obama issued his “red line” to the Syrian regime, saying he would ensure that Damascus would suffer “enormous consequences” if chemical weapons were used or even if they were being readied for deployment.
Pressed by reporters about what consequences could be in line and why the U.S. response has been limited to condemnation, Mr. Earnest demurred. Still, he acknowledged the administration has “not attained our goal here yet, which is the removal of Assad from power.”
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill said some sort of intervention is needed to stop the civil war, which has raged since 2011 and has killed more than 100,0000, according to UN estimates.
“The U.S. has two options: continue to largely stand on the sidelines as the regime slaughters its own people, or tip the balance of power against a brutal dictator by degrading its ability to attack civilians,” Mr. Engel said in a statement. “If we are to salvage what remains of our credibility in the region, we must act soon.”
U.S. officials said earlier this year they had officially concluded that chemical weapons have been used in a few attacks and were reasonably sure the culprits were Syrian government forces. But given past questions about U.S. accusations of weapons of mass destruction, particularly in Iraq, the administration has been tentative in making more definitive claims.
The team negotiated with the Syrian government to gain access to the sites, but now will have to renegotiate if the investigators are to gain access to locations of this week’s attack.