‘US unclear on Syria chemical arms use’
The United States says it is still unclear about Wednesday’s use of chemical weapons in an attack near the Syrian capital Damascus that reportedly killed hundreds of people.
US State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said on Thursday in Washington that President Barack Obama had directed the country’s intelligence agencies to gather information about the incident.
"That means gathering information from witnesses on the ground, it means intelligence gathering, it means open-source reporting, it means scientific gathering," Psaki told reporters.
"At this time, right now, we are unable to conclusively determine CW (chemical weapons) use," Psaki said. "We are doing everything possible in our power to nail down the facts."
Syria's foreign-backed opposition claimed on Wednesday that around 1,300 people were killed in a government chemical attack on militant strongholds in the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar.
Earlier in the day, the United Nations demanded Syria provide its chemical weapons experts immediate access to the Damascus suburbs.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Syria should allow the UN team, which is already in Damascus, to investigate the incident "without delay".
The UN Security Council, which held a meeting behind closed doors on Wednesday to discuss the matter, has said that it seeks clarity on the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.
"There is a strong concern among council members about the allegations and a general sense that there must be clarity on what happened and the situation must be followed closely," said Argentinean Ambassador to the UN Maria Cristina Perceval, who is the president of the council this month, at a press conference following the meeting.
The Syrian government and the army vehemently denied any role in the alleged chemical attack.
On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius threatened force against Syria if the allegations prove true.
"France's position is that there must be a reaction, a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force,” he told the French BFM TV channel.
Russia also called for an objective and professional investigation into the alleged attack, adding that previous such reports have proven false.
Reports of the alleged attack were issued just as a UN chemical weapons inspection team arrived in Syria, making “us think that we are once again dealing with a premeditated provocation," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.
In July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that foreign-backed militants used chemical weapons in the region of Khan al-Assal on March 19, killing over two dozen people, including 16 Syrian troops.
Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011. According to reports, the Western powers and their regional allies -- especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey -- are supporting the militants operating inside Syria.
According to the UN, more than 100,000 people have been killed and a total of 7.8 million of others displaced due to the violence.