US considers no-fly zone over Syria
Obama official says use of chemical weapons is a ’red line’ in the two-year-old civil war
Just months ago, Western countries believed Dr Assad’s days were numbered. But momentum on the battlefield has turned in his favour, making the prospect of his swift removal and an end to the bloodshed appear remote without outside intervention.
Thousands of seasoned fighters from Lebanon’s pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia joined the war on Dr Assad’s behalf in recent weeks and last week helped the Syrian government recapture Qusair, a strategic town.
Dr Assad’s government says its troops are now preparing for a massive assault on Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, mainly in rebel hands since last year.
Activists reported an intensified assault on parts of Aleppo and its countryside near the Turkish border overnight, sparking some of the most violent clashes in months.
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said the guerrilla group would not be shaken in its support for Dr Assad: “Wherever we need to be, we will be.”
The arrival of Shia Hezbollah in the war on behalf of Dr Assad, a member of the Shia offshoot Alawite sect, has exacerbated the war’s dangerous sectarian overtones across the tumultuous region.
Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood backed a call by Sunni clerics for holy war.
The use of chemical weapons provides a straightforward reason for Washington to intervene.
Mr Rhodes said Washington now believed 100-150 people had been killed by government poison gas attacks on rebels.
“The president ... has made it clear that the use of chemical weapons or transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups is a red line,” he said.
“He has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has.”
Syria, which says rebels used chemical weapons not the government, said the US statement was full of lies.
“The White House ... relied on fabricated information in order to hold the Syrian government responsible for using these weapons, despite a series of statements that confirmed that terrorist groups in Syria have chemical weapons,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
An implicit threat to join the conflict puts Washington on a diplomatic collision course with Moscow, which has used its UN Security Council veto three times to block resolutions that might be used to threaten force against Dr Assad.
US officials sayMr Obama will try to persuade Mr Putin to abandon support for Dr Assad when the two leaders meet at a G8 summit in Northern Ireland next week.
Washington and Moscow have jointly called for a peace conference in Geneva, the first attempt in a year by the Cold War foes to find a diplomatic solution to the war, but the prospects for the talks now seem dubious.
The United Nations now estimates at least 93,000 people have been killed in Syria and millions driven from their homes.