Victims of Damascus attack smuggled to Jordan

Samples of blood and urine will help determine agent that killed hundreds

Activists wearing gas masks take away a  dead cat as they collect samples to check for chemical weapon use, in the Zamalka area, where activists say chemical weapons were used by forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. Photograph: Bassam Khabieh/Reuters

Activists wearing gas masks take away a dead cat as they collect samples to check for chemical weapon use, in the Zamalka area, where activists say chemical weapons were used by forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. Photograph: Bassam Khabieh/Reuters

Sat, Aug 24, 2013, 06:49

At least three victims of the alleged chemical weapons attack in east Damascus on Thursday have been smuggled to Jordan where samples of their blood and urine will help determine which agent was used to gas hundreds of people.

The samples could help inform an international response to the attack, which has sharply upped the stakes in Syria’s civil war, drawing demands for recrimination and edging a much-feared regional spillover closer to reality.

Yesterday US president Barack Obama stepped up rhetoric over Syria in his first public comments since the alleged chemical attack, which he called a “big event of grave concern” that the US could not afford to ignore.

“There is no doubt that when you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale – and, again, we’re still gathering information about this particular event, but it is very troublesome,” he said on CNN.

“That starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.”

Though still stressing the need to verify the attack, Mr Obama’s remarks are a marked escalation on the cautious language used by the White House in recent days and follow a whirlwind round of diplomacy by secretary of state John Kerry, who spoke to at least eight other foreign ministers and officials on Thursday .


Russia calls for access to site
Russia too has added to the mounting pressure on the Syrian government by calling for UN inspectors to be granted immediate access to the site.

The Russian foreign ministry declared that Moscow and Washington had a “mutual interest” in pushing for an immediate investigation by UN investigators who are already in Damascus.

US military leaders remain anxious about being sucked into the conflict and a national security council meeting at the White House on Thursday broke up without agreement, after considering a range of military options including, reportedly, the use of cruise missile against the Assad government.

But Mr Obama hinted he was favouring the more interventionist approach backed by advisers such as UN ambassador Samantha Power, telling CNN the US could not afford to stand by. “I think it is fair to say that, as difficult as the problem is, this is something that is going to require America’s attention and hopefully the entire international community’s attention,” he said.

He also suggested the evidence of chemical attacks was much easier to obtain this time around than after previous alleged incidents, which the US took many weeks to acknowledge.

“Unlike some of the evidence that we were trying to get earlier that led to a UN investigator going into Syria, what we’ve seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern,” said the president.

Nonetheless a decision seems far from over in Washington, where officials are scarred by the memories of Iraq and Afghanistan. – (Guardian service)