UN to Syria: Evidence suggests 'chemical substance' used




Posted on August 28, 2013 at 9:06 AM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 28 at 1:02 PM

JERUSALEM (AP) -- The U.N.'s special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, announced today that evidence suggests a "chemical substance" was clearly used to kill hundreds of people in Syria last week. Wednesday's announcement comes as the U.S., France and Britain gear up to launch a retaliatory strike against the Syrian regime in coming days.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Brahimi said that "it does seem like some kind of substance was used" but did not place the blame on the regime or the opposition. Brahimi added, "international law says that any U.S.-led military action must be taken after" agreement in the U.N. Security Council (UNSC).

The U.N. chemical weapons inspection team in Syria came to the conclusion after spending just a day and a half at the sites of last Wednesday's attack in a suburb of the capital of Damascus.

Video uploaded today by local activists shows the U.N. convoy entering Mleha, in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, the UN team's first visit to the main attack site. The U.N. convoy came under fire on Monday and the team postponed their field visit yesterday due to security concerns.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked for an extension, saying "the team needs time to do its job" on the ground.

Speaking in The Hague today, Ban also joined Brahimi to urge the international community to work within the UN framework.

"The body entrusted with international peace and security cannot be missing in action," he said. "The Council must find the unity to act. It must use its authority for peace."

UK Requests UN Action, US Ready to Act

Later today, the UK will introduce a resolution to the UNSC "authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians" in Syria. According to a Downing Street spokesman, the UK will call for authorization of all measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which could include breaking diplomatic ties and economic sanctions, or action by air, sea or land forces.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted Wednesday morning, "we've always said we want the UN Security Council to live up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today they have an opportunity to do that."

Russia, a staunch supporter of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad and China will veto any UNSC resolution that includes military action. But the Obama administration may not wait for U.N. approval.

In an interview with the Asked if the U.S. was ready to act just "like that," Hagel said: "We are ready to go, like that."

In the last 24 hours, Washington has ramped up its case against the Syrian regime.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that allowing "the use of chemical weapons on a significant scale to take place without a response would present a significant challenge to, threat to the United States' national security."

As the rhetoric strengthens, the administration has yet to distribute a promised intelligence report pinning the attack squarely on the Syrian regime.

On Tuesday, Syria's Foreign Minister challenged the Obama administration to show proof linking Assad to the attack.

"If they have any evidence of our use [of chemical weapons], I challenge them to show this evidence to [global] public opinion," he said at a press conference in Damascus. "It's the right of public opinion to know the truth of these allegations."

srael on High Alert

The Syrian regime has not commented on how they might respond to an attack but a Syrian army source told the Iranian news agency FARS, "If Damascus comes under attack, Tel Aviv will be targeted too."

The source added, "We are rest assured that if Syria is attacked, Israel will also be set on fire."

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also voiced his opposition to a U.S. military strike today, calling it a "disaster."

"The intervention of America will be a disaster for the region," Khamenei said, according to the Iranian state news agency ISNA. "The region is like a gunpowder store and the future cannot be predicted."

In a brief statement Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is ready for "any scenario" but did not speculate further.

"We are not part of the civil war in Syria," Netanyahu said, "but if we identify any attempt whatsoever to harm us, we will respond and we will respond in strength."

As the U.S. lays the ground work for an attack, Israelis are largely watching from a distance. Israeli media reports a run on gas masks in the country and local TV stations showed video of long lines at a free gas mask distribution center in Tel Aviv.

But Israelis aren't worried yet, according to Col. Yechiel Kuperstein, the former head of the Home Front Command's Physical Protection Department.

"Israelis can't panic," Kuperstein told told ABC News. "We know how to do it but not at the moment. I think it is too far away. The threat is too far away for the people to be in panic."