Assad denies ordering chemical attack and warns of retaliation against any US strikes
German report claims Syrian leader did not allow use of chemical weapons
A supporter of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad gestures near the US embassy in Lebanon. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has denied ordering an alleged chemical weapons attack said to have killed hundreds of civilians in the Damascus countryside on August 21st.
He also warned that US military operations designed to degrade his forces could change the course of the war in favour of rebels and radical jihadis, causing regional chaos, and that his allies could retaliate.
Dr Assad’s government has blamed the attacks on rebels seeking to draw in the US and its western allies at a time when the military has gone over to the offensive.
His denial coincided with yesterday’s report in Germany’s Bild am Sonntag saying that he repeatedly refused to authorise the deployment of such weapons, quoting German intelligence sources who said commanders had been requesting authorisation for more than four months.
Bild said intelligence on the strikes had been based on radio intercepts by a German naval ship sailing off the Syrian coast.
In his weekly radio address, US president Barack Obama called on US citizens to back an attack on Syria, promising that such strikes would not constitute a full-scale war like those in Iraq or Afghanistan.
US secretary of state John Kerry, in Paris to secure Arab League support for US military action against Syria in retaliation for its purported use of chemical weapons, said he and Arab foreign ministers agreed that “Assad’s deplorable use of chemical weapons crosses an international, global red line”.
He said an “unbelievably small, limited” military strike will be enough to halt Syria’s use of chemical weapons and hasten a political settlement to the civil war. As Congress got set to debate a US intervention, Mr Kerry sought to reassure the public that the Obama administration won’t let a Syrian campaign evolve into a years-long commitment with ground troops, such as in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We’re not talking about war, we’re not going to war,” Mr Kerry said in a press conference in London today after a three- day mission to Europe.
He spoke of a “limited, very targeted, very short-term effort.” Syria’s bid to frustrate that effort took foreign minister Walid al-Muallem to Moscow today, seeking a joint approach with Russia to defuse Western assertions that the Syrian regime is using chemical munitions against its own people.
The two allies called for a peace conference instead of US strikes.
Mr Kerry’s tour yielded a European Union appeal to work through the United Nations, French determination to side with the US, support from as-yet undisclosed Arab countries and denunciations of Dr Assad from Britain, the American ally in prior Middle Eastern wars which will stay out of this one.