Syria and its main ally Russia on Friday accused the
United States of fabricating evidence that the Syrian government had
used chemical weapons against the rebels, as Western leaders and the
opposition welcomed Washington's decision.
"The White House issued a statement full of lies about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, based on fabricated information, to blame the Syrian government for the use of such weapons," a senior Syrian Foreign Ministry official said.
The United States is "showing its double standards in dealing with terrorism," the official added, according to the official SANA news agency.
Russian lawmaker Alexei Pushkov, chairman of parliament's foreign relations committee, said US arms shipments to Syrian rebels would not fundamentally alter the military balance and that the United States would get embroiled in an Iraq-like conflict.
Pushkov wrote on Twitter that evidence "was fabricated in the same place as the lies about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction."
US President Barack Obama on Thursday agreed to start providing direct support to the Syrian Military Council, after his administration received confirmation that President Bashar al-Assad's regime had used chemical weapons in the conflict.
An assessment conducted by US intelligence organizations shows that the nerve agent sarin was used, and that between 100 and 150 people have died in the attacks.
The decision came after the United Nations said at least 93,000 people had been killed since the conflict started more than two years ago. The real fatality figure, however, could be much higher, as 38,000 unverified deaths were not included in the estimate.
"I welcome this candid assessment by the Americans," British Prime Minister David Cameron said.
"I think it, rightly, puts back centre stage the question, the very difficult question to answer but nonetheless one we have got to address: what are we going to do about the fact that in our world today there is a dictatorial and brutal leader who is using chemical weapons under our noses against his own people," he told the Guardian newspaper.
Cameron added that there were "growing levels of information about chemical weapons used by the regime and no firm evidence that chemical weapons have been used by the opposition."
The acting head of the Syrian National Coalition, George Sabra, described the decision as "a positive step" and expressed the hope that there would be no delays.
Selim Idriss, the military chief of the Free Syrian Army, told the Dubai-based Al Arabiya broadcaster: "We hope that such a move will not be ink on paper, but will be implemented on the ground as soon as possible."
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also welcomed the announcement, stressing the need for a political solution.
"The international community has made clear that any use of chemical weapons is completely unacceptable and a clear breach of international law. I welcome the clear US statement," Rasmussen told journalists in Brussels.
"The right way forward is a political solution" for Syria, meaning the regime and the opposition should attend a planned peace conference in Geneva and "stop the bloodshed immediately," he said.
The European Union also said that the only way to solve the Syrian conflict is through a political solution.
"Such developments ... should, we hope, accelerate the efforts of the international community to find a definitive political solution," Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told journalists in Brussels.
"For us, the only solution is a political solution through negotiations," he added. "We have to give the peace process a chance of succeeding."
EU foreign ministers will review the developments in Syria at their next meeting on June 24, with allegations over the use of chemical weapons constituting "an important factor," Mann said.
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