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1,400 Syrians killed in chemical attacks, US weighs strike

Last updated on: August 31, 2013 13:38 IST

1,400 Syrians killed in chemical attacks, US weighs strike

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Indicating that an attack on Syria is imminent, United States President Barack Obama has declared that the America had an obligation to punish Damascus for allegedly using chemical weapons and said a possible military strike would be limited "with no boots on the ground".

"We're not considering any open ended commitment. We're not considering any boots on the ground approach," Obama told reporters on Friday but emphasised that he has "not made any decisions" about what actions the US will take.


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Image: Smoke rises after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad
Photographs: Khattab Abdulaa/Reuters

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1,400 Syrians killed in chemical attacks, US weighs strike

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"We have consulted with allies. We have consulted with the Congress," Obama said after Secretary of State John Kerry indicated that the US is preparing to go it alone on Syria. He said that whatever the US does, it would not be a "major operation".

"I have said before, and I meant what I said, that the world has an obligation to make sure that we maintain the norm against the use of chemical weapons," he said.

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Image: A boy who survived from what activists say is a gas attack cries as he takes shelter inside a mosque in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus
Photographs: Mohamed Abdullah/Reuters

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1,400 Syrians killed in chemical attacks, US weighs strike

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Emerging out of a situation room meeting headed by President Obama, Kerry confirmed that the US would not seek approval of the United Nations Security Council for an attack because of the opposition from Russia on the use of military force. "Because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the UN Security Council, UN cannot galvanise the world to act as it should. So let me be clear. We will continue talking to the Congress, talking to our allies, and most importantly, talking to the American people," Kerry said.

Syrian opposition and the West have accused President Bashar Al-Assad of using chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb killing hundreds of people, a charge denied by the government.

Kerry claimed an August 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus killed at least 1,429 Syrians, 426 of them children. He called the Syrian President "a thug and a murderer" and pledged that the US response "will not involve any boots on the ground and it will not be open ended."

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Image: UN chemical weapons experts, wearing gas masks, inspect one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Damascus' suburb of Zamalka
Photographs: Mohamed Abdullah/Reuters

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1,400 Syrians killed in chemical attacks, US weighs strike

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"We have a president who does what he says that he will do. And he has said, very clearly, that whatever decision he makes in Syria it will bear no resemblance to Afghanistan, Iraq or even Libya," Kerry said.  

"President Obama will ensure that the US makes its own decisions on our own timelines, based on our values and our interests. Now, we know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am, too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility," Kerry said, indicating that a strike against Syria is imminent.

"Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about. And history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator's wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency, these things we do know," he said.

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Image: Children, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, breathe through oxygen masks in the Damascus suburb of Saqba
Photographs: Bassam Khabieh/Reuters

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1,400 Syrians killed in chemical attacks, US weighs strike

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"The president has been clear: Any action that he might decide to take will be limited and a tailored response to ensure that, a despot's brutal and flagrant use of chemical weapons is held accountable," he said.

Soon after Kerry's remarks, Syria said his claims that Damascus used chemical weapons was "entirely fabricated" and poorly crafted document based on social media inputs.

"What the US administration describes as irrefutable evidence... is nothing but tired legends that the terrorists have been circulating for more than a week, with their share of lies and entirely fabricated stories," a Syrian foreign ministry statement read out on state television said.

It expressed surprise that "a superpower could mislead its opinion so clumsily, relying on evidence that does not exist, and that the United States could base policies on matters of war and peace on social media and websites."

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Image: Handprints are pictured on a UN vehicle carrying a team of chemical weapons experts visiting one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus
Photographs: Mohamed Abdullah/Reuters

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1,400 Syrians killed in chemical attacks, US weighs strike

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The White House said that President Obama has called his French counterpart Francois Hollande and United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameroon to discuss Syria situation after his administration released the intelligence assessment of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

Obama and Hollande agreed that the "international community cannot tolerate the use of chemicals weapons" and "must hold the regime accountable" and send a strong message that the use of chemical weapons is not acceptable, it said. "The US and France are close allies and friends, and we will continue to consult closely with France on Syria and other global security challenges," it said on Friday.

Meanwhile, differences emerged among US lawmakers on the approach the United States should take to hold the regime accountable for the alleged use of chemical weapons. Powerful Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the US should not undertake a kinetic strike before the UN inspectors complete their work.


Image: A UN chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus
Photographs: Mohamed Abdullah/Reuters

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