French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday that world powers should respond “with force” if chemical weapons use by Syrian government forces is confirmed.
“Scores of men, women and children were killed outside Damascus on Wednesday,” the New York Times reported on Wednesday, “in an attack marked by the telltale signs of chemical weapons: row after row of corpses without visible injury; hospitals flooded with victims, gasping for breath, trembling and staring ahead languidly; images of a gray cloud bursting over a neighborhood.”
The Syrian opposition accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of the attack, but, the Times adds, “even with videos, witness accounts and testimonies by emergency medics, it was impossible to say for certain how many people had been killed and what exactly had killed them.”
A top Israeli official said his government is certain chemical weapons were used this week. “According to our intelligence assessments there was use of chemical weapons,” said Israeli minister of strategic and intelligence affairs and international relations, Yuval Steinitz, “and this of course was not for the first time.”
A “senior” Obama administration official said “there are strong indications there was a chemical weapons attack—clearly by the government. But we do need to do our due diligence and get all the facts and determine what steps need to be taken.”
The AP reported on Thursday that Syrian government forces bombed “rebel-held suburbs where the opposition said the regime had killed over 100 people the day before in a chemical weapons attack.”
While ruling out ground forces in response, Laurent said “there would have to be reaction with force in Syria from the international community.” If the U.N. Security Council will not respond, he said, then action would have to be taken “in other ways.”
The U.S.’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, said in a recent letter to a congressman that while the United States could easily defeat Assad’s air forces and turn the tide of the war in the rebels’ favor, the Syrian opposition is not ready to take control of the country.
“Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides,” Dempsey said. “It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.”
In other news:
The Financial Times reports: The Palestinians will resume their push for recognition and legal redress against Israel in international bodies if it continues to expand housing construction in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a senior Palestinian official said on Wednesday in a sign of the distrust clouding recently relaunched peace talks.
The New York Times reports: Egypt’s military-appointed government ordered former President Hosni Mubarak transferred from prison to house arrest late Wednesday after a court said he could no longer legally be held behind bars.