August 22nd, 2013
06:51 PM ET

U.N., U.S. call for urgent probe of Syria chemical attack claim

(CNN) - The United Nations and the United States are calling for an immediate investigation of Syrian activists' claims that the Bashar al-Assad government used chemical weapons in an attack on civilians.

Anti-regime activist groups in Syria say more than 1,300 people were killed in the attack outside Damascus, many of them women and children. Video footage and witness reports appeared to bolster claims that chemical weapons were used.

President Barack Obama has directed the U.S. intelligence community to urgently gather additional information to try to assess whether chemical weapons were used Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday.

At this time, she said, the United States is unable to "conclusively determine" chemical weapons use, but is focused on trying to nail down the facts, along with its international partners.

Psaki said, as she has before, that if reports of chemical weapons use prove true, the president has a range of options available to him to respond.

Later, a senior defense official told CNN that "the military continues to refine options for Syria to be prepared for whatever the president might request down the line."

Psaki noted that Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone Thursday to Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba; U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon; and French, Jordanian, Turkish and European Union leaders.

Ban Ki-moon said the alleged incidents Wednesday need to be probed "without delay."

Ban urged a Damascus-based team "to be granted permission and access to swiftly investigate the incident" and the United Nations is sending a formal request to Syria.

"He expects to receive a positive response without delay," his spokesperson said in a statement.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the matter is "of utmost urgency" and the "allegations are exceptionally grave."

Pillay urged both the government and opposition to enable investigators "to examine the site of the alleged attacks without any delay or obfuscation."

"The use of chemical weapons is prohibited under customary international law," she said, noting that the prohibition is binding on the government and rebels.

"Whether or not chemical weapons were in fact used, it seems that once again in Syria many civilians have been killed in flagrant contravention of international law."

U.N. special advisers Adama Dieng and Jennifer Welsh similarly urged immediate access for the U.N. investigation.

"There is never any military justification for the use of chemical weapons - whether by governments or anti-government armed groups - given their horrific and indiscriminate impact," they said in a joint statement.

International outrage

Suffering in Syria is clear, but cause and culprits are murky

The reports prompted international outrage, with a U.N. Security Council briefing called late Wednesday to discuss the situation. However, Russia and China - consistent allies of the Syrian government - reportedly blocked a formal resolution.

Hours after the closed-door meeting, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told CNN affiliate BFMTV that "a reaction of force must be taken" if the allegations are true.

"If the U.N. Security Council cannot do it, decisions will be made otherwise," Fabius said. But, he said, sending ground troops to Syria is out of question.

Chemical weapons frightful, relatively inexpensive

Fabius also added his voice to calls for a U.N. team currently in Syria to investigate previous claims of chemical weapons use by either side to be given access to the site of the alleged massacre outside Damascus.

If al-Assad's regime "has nothing to reproach itself with," it should let the U.N. weapons inspectors investigate the alleged attack, Fabius said. "If the Syrians refuse, that means they have been caught red-handed," he said.

Turkey urges decisive action

Speaking on a visit to Berlin, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on the United Nations to act decisively, Turkey's semi-official Anadolu news agency reported.

Davutoglu said "all red lines" have been crossed without the United Nations taking action in Syria and that the body "can't assume an undecisive attitude about chemical weapon attacks" there.

"If the Syrian regime is confident enough, it should allow the U.N. team to investigate (the chemical attack claims) immediately," he added.

Speaking alongside him, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the reports from Syria "are serious and, should they be confirmed, outrageous."

He demanded a prompt explanation of the reported chemical weapons use, and also called for the U.N. chemical weapons team to be allowed access.

"I regret that Russia and China have blocked a formal resolution of the Security Council," Westerwelle said.

Al-Assad's government denied the claims on state-run media Wednesday, calling them "completely baseless."

"Everything that has been said is absurd, primitive, illogical and fabricated," said Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi on state TV. He said the claim was timed by the opposition to coincide with the U.N team's visit and came as government forces were making gains on all sides against the rebels.

CNN could not immediately verify where or when the videos were recorded, and could not authenticate the number killed or injured.

Israel: World paying lip service

Yuval Steinitz, Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs, told Israel Radio on Thursday morning that its intelligence assessments indicated that "chemical weapons were used, and they were not used for the first time."

Syria strikes refugee camp in northern Lebanon

He accused the international community of "paying lip service" when it comes to Syria.

"Nothing practical, significant, has been done in the last two years in order to stop the continuing massacre of civilians carried out by the Assad regime," he said. "I think that the investigation of the United Nations is a joke."

The White House said Wednesday that officials were "working urgently to gather additional information." It called for the U.N. team in Syria to be given immediate access to witnesses and affected individuals, and to be allowed to collect evidence unhindered by the government.

"If the Syrian government has nothing to hide and is truly committed to an impartial and credible investigation of chemical weapons use in Syria, it will facilitate the U.N. team's immediate and unfettered access to this site," the statement said.

But U.S. senator and former presidential candidate John McCain was strongly critical of the administration's handling of the situation in an interview with CNN's "New Day" on Thursday.

He said chemical weapons use was "obvious from the pictures when you see the dead bodies of children and women and others stacked up."

McCain said he was "sure and confident" that al-Assad had used chemical weaponry before, and that Barack Obama's failure to act on what the U.S. president had said would be a "red line" had given the Syrian leader a green light to use these weapons again.

McCain called for the United States to take military action from outside Syria's borders to prevent that happening, saying it could "very easily" do what's needed to take out Syrian runways and aircraft and establish a no-fly zone.

Witness: Convulsions, trouble breathing

The Syrian civil war has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions, according to the United Nations.

There have been repeated allegations that chemical weapons were being used during the course of the conflict.

The latest alleged attack took place in eastern and western Ghouta, rebel strongholds that the regime has been fighting to take back for more than a year.

Initially, Syrian opposition groups claimed that hundreds were killed Wednesday, but as the day wore on, the number went up - more than 1,300 people, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees and the Syrian National Council. The council is an umbrella group of anti-regime activists.

Video posted Wednesday shows people carrying limp bodies, some haphazardly covered in sheets, others splayed, nearly nude, on the floor. A man is on his back, staring blankly upward, his chest convulsing violently. Others hold tissues to their mouth, appearing to gag.

Dr. Abu Said at a field hospital in Sakba, east of Damascus, told CNN how the injured started streaming in shortly after predawn prayers Wednesday. Forty of the 200 people brought to the field hospital died, Said said.

A man who referred to himself as a volunteer first responder, Abu Gazi, said he was with a doctor at a field hospital in Arbeen who reported 300 people dead and 500 wounded.

The symptoms, he said, included unconsciousness, foaming from the nose and mouth, constricted pupils, fast heartbeat and difficulty breathing. People died of asphyxiation, he said.

"The inspectors will not come," said a resident who didn't want his name used. "If they wanted to come, they would have come a long time ago.

"The Assad regime determines where the inspectors go, and they will not let them go there. There is already a siege around eastern Ghouta from the Assad regime."

'Held to account'

Rights group Human Rights Watch also called Wednesday for the U.N. inspection team to be given immediate access to the area.

"Whether or not chemical weapons were used, the attack left a large number of civilians dead, and those responsible for unlawful killings should be held to account," it said.

U.N. children's agency UNICEF said the reports of Wednesday's attack on civilians were deeply disturbing and that those who failed to protect children must be held accountable.

Bashar al-Assad is all smiles on his new Instagram account

Syria's official news agency, SANA, quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday as saying the rebels must be behind any chemical weapons attack, if confirmed, as "they do not hesitate to commit any crime."

Russian officials, meanwhile, dismissed the claims of chemical weapons as a "provocation planned in advance," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told Interfax news agency. He suggested it was timed to coincide with the visit by the U.N. team.

CNN's Arwa Damon, Michael Schwartz, Bryony Jones, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Christine Theodorou, Pierre Meilhan, Saad Abedine, Ashley Fantz and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.

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  36. StanCalif

    The Middle East is NOT ready for any type of government other than a strong dictator.
    Name one country that is better off today after disposing their dictators! Not one! Under dictators, these people lived in relative peace and their economies actually worked.
    Today, so many countries lie in ruins and have no economic possibilities. Worst example is Iraq! "Freed" from Saddam, now "free" to kill each other and ignore restoring their own country. They don't care, why should we, the USA?
    Egypt tried and failed!
    The Western world hailed the fall of the Soviet Union as a "new beginning" for "oppressed" people! What, exactly, is Russia today? Reverted back to what they know, another dictator run country! A very dangerous "dictator" hell bent on re-creating the old Soviet Union he adores! His biggest prize, yet to be taken, is Ukraine! Putin is intent on taking back Ukraine and will most likely succeed.

    August 25, 2013 at 8:56 am | Reply
    • StanCalif

      Another comment, John McCain needs to retire and shut up! There is nothing to be gained for US involvement in Middle Easterner's strong desires to kill each other and destroy their own countries. Putting US troops into these situations only gives both sides a new target. American troops would quickly become prime targets for both sides!

      August 25, 2013 at 9:21 am | Reply
      • Pete

        @StanCalif,you're right its time for the Saigon Songbird to call it quits..His salesmanship for the MIC has been declining lately and its time to go to the pasture ..Stay outta the middle east for once and let these ignorents destroy themselves.We don't need them using our kids for target practice and they dispise us so quit the foriegn aid as well..Use it here for once where it'll be greatly appreciated !!!And if these countrys need money,supplies let them barter,sell what they have which isn't much unless its crude or some natural resources and you can't eat them can yah!!

        August 25, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  37. Kghjm Dfthul

    notice how Putin recently banned gay imersion in the Russian culture and how America consumes black muslium militant behavior because they are sold this by jewish corporate leadership in the entertainment monopolies even shoes which are both entertainment support and american black muslium militant initiative/narrative...now how about n-I-G-G-a rap you can find this behavior in jails all across america and it leads to prison riots like their muslium counterparts who always break there n-I-G-G-a-s out of jail in the muslium world thus dissing the rule of law replacing it with islamic law or at the very least moving closer and closer to islamic law

    August 24, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  38. Kghjm Dfthul

    or put another way the ARMY OF ISLAMS breeding practices only allow for more musliums babies being born not less... less non muslium babies (white) not more.

    August 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  39. Kghjm Dfthul

    AKA the ARMY OF ISLAMS breading practices only allow for more black babies not less and less white babies not more...

    August 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  40. Kghjm Dfthul

    ever notice how blacks are against blacks being gay but laugh when whites are gay...

    August 24, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Reply
  41. Kghjm Dfthul

    there on t.v. is marion barry wearing a white cap that looks almost exactly like muslium male headress go figure...now

    August 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  42. Kghjm Dfthul

    malcolm x

    August 24, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  43. Kghjm Dfthul

    big brother sensorship is in full effect now

    August 24, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Reply
  44. Kghjm Dfthul

    lots and lots of muslium tacktics being delivered at the national mall today lots and lots of exact words sentances naratives being shared coming out of the mouths of blacks about N-I-G-G-A behavior -malcolm x a muslium called the civil rights movement a sham and from the perspective of a muslium such as malcolm x was who new the tactics of the ARMY OF ISLAM knew that the martian luther king civil rights movement was at its core nothing more than a christian puppet surrounded by musliums–look behind martian luther king as he gives the speech there are lots and lots of muslium head dress being worn by the men

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  46. Kghjm Dfthul

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  47. Kghjm Dfthul

    what political party did german/jew belong to

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  48. Kghjm Dfthul

    NAZI WAS A POLITICAL PARTY

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    hitler was a jew

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    jew might admit that hitler went to church not sin-a-gág and was not a Arab or a muslium

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    JEW IS IN AGREEMENT THAT ARABS ARE NOT ATTACKING SIN-A-GAGS not to be confused with sin or jewish american rock star

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    JEW IS IN AGREEMENT THAT ARABS ARE ATTACKING CHURCHES

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  53. Kghjm Dfthul

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    • Pete

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  56. Ffhjkft Jfturth

    hugh increases in N-I-G-G-A/J-E-W behavior the past few days...it is based in the urban gorrilla militant cultural emersion a warfair effort to end White bloodlines...turn on the radio...N-I-G-G-A music...turn on the T.V. N-I-G-G-A entertainers standing on astroturf owned by J-E-W-S or see N-I-G-G-A 's holding up black/half breed babies to cheering white auidences...want to find a N-I-G-G-A just look next to any blond girl/woman there will be @ least 1 plus a half-bread or 2-a-car-full openly stalking the blond woman/girl...there is a mirror of muslium doctorine being conducted by coloreds with the direct aid of J-E-W-S in syinc with the campaigns of the ARMY OF ISLAM... but "I" am not spying on myself or Americans, of course. What about you the Government employee.Hmm...why was it so damn important for the creation of the "patriot" A-C-T and why is it so damn important that the "white"house has weaponized it on its own citizens who volenteered in there political system which is owned by israel...Hmmm...

    August 24, 2013 at 1:07 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      You're absolutely right. J-E-W-S or see N-I-G-G-A 's rule the world. Go and hang yourself on the nearest tree. The air will become a bit cleaner.

      August 24, 2013 at 11:52 am | Reply
  57. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    August 24, 2013 at 12:10 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      This article is not about America. It's about Arabs using chemical weapons to kill other Arabs.

      August 24, 2013 at 11:54 am | Reply
  58. Dfghk Ddfguk

    Not only does someone else need to pay for (I said pay as in money) for whatever might or might not happen but the U.S. should come out ahead...other then that did you see the footage of people foaming at the mouth convulsing...imagine your last living thought...I have been killed like a locus except there are no locus just little dead and dying kids around you laying on the floor surrounded by people who cannot help you just watch you and you watching them watch you...hows that for freedom of speech...

    August 23, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Reply
  59. Funguseater

    People need to remember that it is VERY simple to manufacture "Nerve agents", anyone with high school chemistry and some weed & feed can whip something up. You can also still buy Dursban for agricultural use or terrorism. But at least our lawns are green.

    August 23, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Reply
    • Pete

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  60. Towel Heads

    Towel Heads killing Towel Heads. So what's the issue again?

    August 23, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      The same old issue... As usual, Arabs kill each other while blaming America and the Jews for it. Nothing new here.

      August 24, 2013 at 11:57 am | Reply
  61. Choir Loft

    Once again the Washington, DC propaganda machine is busily convincing the world and the people of the Stasi States of America that meddling in the affairs of a sovereign nation is justified. Syria's war isn't America's war.
    and that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...

    August 23, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Reply
    • Peppy

      Not to worry bammy will wimp out, he always does. Just like the jobs pivot

      August 23, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Reply
      • Pete

        @Peppy,everytime you open your mouth stupidity comes flying out..You'll never learn will yah idiot!!Talk about wimpy ,look in a mirror lately jerk!!

        August 25, 2013 at 10:48 am |
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  65. Hklfthui Ddfhj

    ...

    August 23, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  66. Hklfthui Ddfhj

    ..

    August 23, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  67. Hklfthui Ddfhj

    .

    August 23, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  68. Hklfthui Ddfhj

    the sensorship is in full effect now

    August 23, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  69. Hklfthui Ddfhj

    Now let's talk big time oil money Saudi offer up a measly 12.5 billion $'s for resolution in Egypt when Egypt is (for all intents and purposses) theirs (Saudi) to begin with...or is it Hmmm....

    August 23, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  70. Hklfthui Ddfhj

    WHO IS IN SYRIA BESIDES RUSSIA & IRAN...terrorists you say go figure...IRAN IS THE BIGGIST STATE SPONSOR OF TERRORISM...you say things are not going as planned in Syria yet things are going exactly as possitioned...now ask yourself by the numbers how does it all messure up...the news says 100 people were gassed and Putin calls for an investigaion of 1000 people being gased in Syria (@ the U.N. of all places) where Putin drug China along into opposing any intervention in Syria after peaceful protesting Syrians were questioning thier Government & Assad rather than talk crushed the protesters using Syrias full military might...AND THAT WAS YEARS AGO & NOTHING GOOD HAS HAPPENED INSIDE SYRIA SINCE THEN...go figure...now your worried about chemical weapons which could have been destroyed years ago being moved to another hostile military like those exact same chemical weopons were moved from IRAQ to SYRIA instead of being destroyed...now your not worried about Assad using them on his own people your worried about WHO EXACTLY using them on WHO ELSE EXACTLY...let me guess Iran on Israel...isnt that interesting. Remember Israel runs the U.S. Govenment through political contrabutions and lobbying and that is no BS...

    August 23, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Reply
  71. Daryl Revok

    I don't give a rat's ass what's going on over there...it's not worth another war for any reason.

    August 23, 2013 at 1:49 am | Reply
  72. afram asmar

    I think MR Maccain you need to stop supporting Obama and his ideas.You already caused distruction of Syria and killing 10th of thousnds of innocent peoples,before you accusing Syria with chemical weapon try to find out first who used it,what's the benefits for Syria when this happen very close to Damascus the capital.you think this is possible for the Government of Syria to use it no way in hell.find another reason ,as an American citizen I disagree with your opinion .US should not interfere again in any other countries affaires

    August 23, 2013 at 12:59 am | Reply
  73. Iyuyy Tjdjd

    WHERE IS THE $$$...

    August 23, 2013 at 12:20 am | Reply
  74. Iyuyy Tjdjd

    triangulation/pest-control/another terror card friday @ the Mosque/to date # of terror events meet projections for Aug. 2013. & will meet or exceed projections going into the 911 season in 2013.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:17 am | Reply
  75. Jean Sartre

    OK, the first time this happened, we just asked for a probe; now we are asking for an "urgent probe." I get that... what will we be asking for after the third time?

    August 23, 2013 at 12:07 am | Reply
    • Random

      wmd's aside I get it you dont like doing nothing, wth do you propose we do , or are you a republican shill just trying to encite angst for political gain. Because if you don't have a better idea of how to achieve a goal there, all you are is a shill.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:41 am | Reply
      • Peppy

        Dem or repub, who cares ?? fact is bammy= atna= all talk no action, jobs pivot ????

        August 23, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  76. George patton

    This reeks again of a C.I.A. put up job! I bet it was the riff raft( the so-called "free" Syrian Army) who gassed these people at the behest of Washington, trying to inflame public opinion against the Assad regime!!!

    August 22, 2013 at 7:16 pm | Reply
    • F Arpoika

      Assad is a lot better at gassing people. He just can't handle it that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is gaining strength while he is getting weaker. And Washington, they really don't need any help in inflaming opposition to Assad. Assad does that by himself with torture, killing civilians, letting women be raped in his prisons (and men), and torturing and killing even children.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Reply
      • afram asmar

        This is not true what you think you saying .the FSA are mercenaries and killers murderers kidnapers plus islamist who eats human and beheading and shouting peoples every day sense the war started .the government of Syria are deffenting itself against so many invadors supported by Turkey US Europe Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states etc etc etc and there was a peace in Syria before this happen,don't let any body tells you otherwise ,you need to read some more about the real stories about Syria situation

        August 23, 2013 at 1:09 am |
    • Peppy

      Wouldn't surprise me

      August 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  77. Random

    Ok so lets assume it is chemical weps and not a bluff or ploy. Lets assume we can prove it. Lets assume we can prove who used it and it was asshat .
    What can you do aside from invade them and become personally involved?

    Arm them? They are the roaming islamic army. You are arming people who's next goal might very well be to invade us.
    Train them? Again once they have victory over asshat where do you think those trained guns will be pointing?

    There must be good people there, but you don't know who they are. You cant control where the training and weps end up, nor can you promise it will be effective.

    Really the choice is a choice between letting him control his population and thus safeguard the chemical weapons as he has in the past, or stop him from controlling them and give opportunity to the islamic army to take over. Lets be honest, chemical weapons are worse than nukes if used right. How can you possibly justify jeopardizing the security of a regime that has thus far controlled it self, and its huge stock pile of wmds. Even if you HAD proof , of who what where when and why, there is nothing short of invading that you can do to promise results that are not worse than what we had before. The arab spring is a failure , putting worse people in charge and more deaths than before with no gains.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Reply
    • F Arpoika

      Was the French revolution a failure because Napoleon took over? I think not ... it started a "democratic spring" ... it just takes a little time. But we have to start somewhere.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Reply
      • Random

        There is still some hope for egypt, for sure. But the people shooting people are not going to give up till they are dead. Syria is just a blood bath. The best you can hope for imho, is for it not to wipe out most of humanity when and if those chemical weapons get out. Given the choice between watch syrians gas syrians, and eventually get those stock piles secured, or between asshat losing and those stockpiles killing the rest of the world, Its not really much of a choice eh? Egypt has a chance , if they can stop slaughtering each other long enough to try. It seems though overall, more people have died from the arab spring than from what it was supposed to stop.

        August 23, 2013 at 12:38 am |
    • Jean Sartre

      We do have a neutron-bomb... that only kills living things and does not destroy cities, buildings or infrastructure; one placed on Al Assad's lap should do the trick...

      August 23, 2013 at 12:12 am | Reply
      • George patton

        Posted like a true Tea Partying nitwit! Thank you, Jean. It's ignorant people like you who are the one biggest threat that this country faces today!!!

        August 23, 2013 at 9:00 am |

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