US says Syrian chemical attack killed 1 429
WASHINGTON – Edging toward a retaliatory strike, the Obama administration bluntly accused the Syrian government today of launching a chemical weapons attack that killed at least 1 429 people – far more than previous estimates – including more than 400 children.
“Some cite the risk of doing things” in response, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech acknowledging that Americans at home and United States allies abroad are weary of war. “But we need to ask what is the risk of doing nothing.”
Halfway around the world, US warships were in place to deliver a punishing blow.
At the same time, United Nations personnel carried out a fourth day of inspection as they sought to determine precisely what happened in the attack last week. The international contingent arranged to depart Syria on Saturday and head to laboratories in Europe with the samples they have collected.
Video said to be taken at the scene shows victims writhing in pain, twitching and exhibiting other symptoms associated with exposure to nerve agents. The videos distributed by activists to support their claims of a chemical attack were consistent with AP reporting of shelling in the suburbs of Damascus at the time, though it was not known if the victims had died from a poisonous gas attack.
Residents of Damascus stocked up on food and other necessities in anticipation of strikes, although no signs of panic or shortages were evident.
“We got used to the sound of shelling” after three years of civil war, said Kheireddine Nahleh, a 53-year-old government employee. “Death is the same, be it with a mortar or with an American missile. I’m not afraid.”
President Barack Obama met with his national security aides at the White House as aides insisted he has not yet made a decision to attack military facilities belonging to Bashar Assad’s government.
Even so, the administration did nothing to discourage the predictions that he would – and soon. It was an impression heightened both by Kerry’s remarks and the release of an unclassified intelligence assessment that cited “high confidence” that the Syrian government carried out the attack.
In addition to the dead, the assessment reported that about 3 600 patients “displaying symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure” were seen at Damascus-area hospitals after the attack. To that, Kerry added that “a senior regime official who knew about the attack confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime, reviewed the impact and actually was afraid they would be discovered.” He added for emphasis: “We know this.”
Mindful of public opinion, Kerry urged Americans to read the four-page assessment for themselves. He referred to Iraq – when Bush administration assurances that weapons of mass destruction were present proved false, and a US invasion led to a long, deadly war. Kerry said this time it will be different.
“We will not repeat that moment,” he said. (AP)