News Column

Conflicting Data in Syrian Chemical Attack

September 9, 2013
chemical weapons

As US President Barack Obama prepares to address the nation to lay out the case for military action against Syria, he continues to point to an intelligence assessment showing "high confidence" that Bashar al-Assad's regime used chemical weapons against its own people on August 21 near Damascus.

Other nations have pointed to their own intelligence, as Syria and ally Russia continue to dismiss the claims.

UNITED STATES: An unclassified US intelligence assessment released a week after the attack said 1,429 people, including 426 children, were killed, and that only the al-Assad regime could have carried it out.

The public version did not name the sources of much of the information, referring only to "a large body of independent sources."

The US pointed to the evidence of preparation for an attack in the three days leading up to it and heavy artillery shelling in the aftermath in an apparent bid to destroy remaining evidence.

SYRIA: Damascus has repeatedly denied the use of chemical weapons and blamed the opposition fighters. It said government soldiers found chemical weapons a few days later in tunnels used by rebels.

Al-Assad said his government had nothing to gain from using chemical weapons in an area where its troops were present. He told US broadcaster CBS on Monday that the US does not have evidence of a chemical weapons attack.

RUSSIA: Moscow has said it believes that the rebels are to blame for recent chemical attacks and that it is unconvinced by evidence presented by the West that the Syrian government is responsible.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday there is ample evidence showing the attack was carried out by rebels, adding that the internet is awash with footage in which rebels claim they had carried out the attack.

President Vladimir Putin said last week it seemed "absolutely absurd" that the Syrian army would carry out such an attack, because it would only serve as a pretext for a US-led bombing campaign.

UNITED NATIONS: UN inspectors were in Syria when the attack took place to investigate past allegations of chemical weapons use and were able to visit the site only later.

They are expected to release their findings later this month. Their report is not expected to determine who was responsible for weapons use, only whether they had been used. Several nations, including Germany and France, have said they would wait for the UN report before proceeding.

Nine experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and three from the World Health Organization visited hospitals and interviewed doctors and possible victims in Syria. The inspectors took samples from the ground as well as from alleged victims.

FRANCE: France, which along with the US has been a vocal advocate of military intervention, found in a nine-page declassified report that the attack "could only have been ordered and carried out by the regime."

Expert analysis of 47 videos of the attack had shown "at least 281 deaths," but modelling of the impact of chemical attacks showed the total figure was probably far higher, the report said. The document drew a line between last month's attack and two smaller attacks using sarin gas in April to build a case against al-Assad.

BRITAIN: Britain's Joint Intelligence Organization concluded in an August 29 memo that there was "little serious dispute" of a chemical weapons attack with at least 350 fatalities and "there are no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility."

It pointed to 14 past uses of chemical weapons by the regime and said video footage was consistent with a nerve agent.

GERMANY: German intelligence indicated there had been repeated requests from divisional and brigade-level commanders to the presidential palace in Damascus for a clearance to use chemical weapons, the Bild am Sonntag newspaper quoted unnamed security sources as saying.

But German analysts said the requests had been consistently rejected and suggest that al-Assad might not have personally approved the use of gas. dpa could not obtain independent confirmation of the newspaper report.

MSF: Doctors without Borders, the international aid organization, was among the first to report on the attack, noting three hospitals near Damascus treated 3,600 patients with symptoms of nerve gas exposure in a timeframe of less than three hours on August 21. It said on August 24 that at least 355 had died in those hospitals. However, MSF said it could not scientifically confirm the cause of patients' symptoms or determine responsibility.


## Internet

- [US intelligence assessment]( - [Lavrov transcript, Russian:] ( - [Putin interview, English]( - [Al-Assad interview excerpts]( - [British assessment]( - [Summary of French assessment]( - [Doctors without Borders](

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Source: Copyright Deutsche Presse-Agentur ??? Engl 2013

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