Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

September 3, 2013

Assad: Risk of regional war if West strikes Syria

PARIS — France released an intelligence report on Monday alleging chemical weapons use by Syria’s regime that dovetailed with similar U.S. claims, as President Bashar Assad warned that any military strike against his country would spark an uncontrollable regional war and spread “chaos and extremism.”

The verbal crossfire, including a rejection of the Western allegations by longtime Syrian ally Russia, was part of frenzied efforts on both sides to court international public opinion after President Barack Obama said he would seek authorization from Congress before launching any military action against Assad’s regime.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Assad was quoted as saying that Syria has challenged the U.S. and France to provide proof to support their allegations, but that their leaders “have been incapable of doing that, including before their own peoples.”

“If the Americans, the French or the British had a shred of proof, they would have shown it beginning on the first day,” he said, deriding Obama as “weak” and having buckled to U.S. domestic political pressure.

“We believe that a strong man is one who prevents war, not one who inflames it,” Assad said.

French President Francois Hollande and Obama have been the two world leaders most vocally calling for action against Assad’s regime, accusing it of carrying out a deadly chemical attack against rebel-held suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21.

The U.S. said it has proof that the Assad regime is behind attacks that Washington claims killed at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children. Those numbers are significantly higher than the death toll of 355 provided by the aid group Doctors Without Borders.

It has marked an intolerable escalation in a two-year civil war in Syria that has left some 100,000 people dead.

The Syrian government denies the allegations, and blames opposition fighters. In the Figaro interview, Assad questioned whether an attack took place at all and refused to say whether his forces have chemical weapons, as is widely believed.

If the U.S. and France strike, “Everyone will lose control of the situation ... Chaos and extremism will spread. The risk of a regional war exists,” he added.

To back up its case, the French government published a nine-page intelligence synopsis Monday that concluded Assad’s regime had launched an attack on Aug. 21 involving a “massive use of chemical agents,” and could carry out similar strikes in the future.

In all, though, the French report provided little new concrete evidence beyond what U.S. officials provided over the weekend in Washington. Along with it, the French Defense Ministry posted on its Web site six clips of amateur video showing victims, some of which has already been widely available online and in the international media.

In the Figaro interview, Assad said “all the accusations are based on allegations of the terrorists and on arbitrary videos posted on the Internet.”

The French report made no specific reference to the agencies involved or how the intelligence was collected about the attack, aside from referring to videos of the injured or killed, doctors’ accounts, and “independent evaluations” such as one from Paris-based humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders three days after the attack.

A French government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the matter because of its sensitivity, said the analysis was written by the spy agency DGSE and the military intelligence unit, DRM, and was based on satellite imagery, video images, and on-the-ground sources — plus samples collected from the alleged chemical attacks in April.

The assessment said it was “very unlikely” that Syria’s opposition had falsified images of suffering children that turned up online. It also said intelligence indicated the opposition “does not have the means to conduct such a large attack with chemical agents.”

Around the time of the attack, Assad’s regime feared a possible opposition strike on Damascus: “Our evaluation is that the regime was looking to loosen the vice and secure the strategic sites for the control of the capital,” the report said.

The synopsis also said French intelligence services had collected urine, blood, soil and munitions samples from two attacks in April — in Saraqeb and Jobar — that confirmed the use of sarin gas.

France is “determined to take action against the use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar Assad, and to dissuade it from doing so again,” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said after hosting lawmakers to discuss the intelligence on Syria. “This act cannot go without a response.”

France won’t act alone and Hollande was “continuing his work of persuasion to bring together a coalition,” Ayrault said. French parliament will debate the Syria issue Wednesday, but no vote is scheduled. The French constitution doesn’t require such a vote for Hollande, though he could decide to call for one.

Russia, which along with Iran has been a staunch supporter of Assad through the conflict, brushed aside Western evidence of an alleged Syrian regime role.

“What our American, British and French partners showed us in the past and have showed just recently is absolutely unconvincing,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday before the French report was released. “And when you ask for more detailed proof they say all of this is classified, so we cannot show this to you.”

“There was nothing specific there, no geographic coordinates, no names, no proof that the tests were carried out by the professionals,” he said, without identifying which tests.

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to send a delegation of Russian lawmakers to the U.S. to discuss the situation in Syria with members of Congress. Two top Russian legislators suggested that to Putin, pointing to polls that have shown little support among Americans for armed intervention in Syria.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington received new physical evidence in the form of blood and hair samples that show sarin gas was used in the attack. It wasn’t immediately clear whether that evidence had been shared with Russia.

U.N. chemical inspectors toured the stricken areas last week, collecting biological and soil samples. A U.N. statement said the team “worked around the clock” to finalize preparations of the samples, which were shipped Monday afternoon from The Hague and would reach their designated laboratories “within hours,” the statement said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon planned to brief the Security Council’s 10 non-permanent members on the Syria crisis Tuesday morning. Angela Kane, high representative for disarmament affairs, planned a Tuesday briefing for member states that requested the investigation of alleged chemical weapons use in the Ghouta area outside Damascus on Aug. 21.

The Obama administration has failed to bring together a broad international coalition in support of military action, having so far only secured the support of France.

Britain’s Parliament narrowly voted against the country’s participation in any military strike last week, despite appeals by Prime Minister David Cameron. The Arab League has stopped short of endorsing a Western strike against Syria.

In an emergency meeting Sunday, the 22-state League urged the United Nations and the international community to take “deterrent” measures under international law to stop the Syrian regime’s crimes. Russia or China would likely veto any U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning a Western strike against Syria.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

    A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

    April 22, 2014

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Death count in ferry sinking tops 100

    One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP520422034 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 22, the 112th day of 2014. There are 253 days left in the year.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Immigration _Rich copy.jpg DHS secretary re-evaluating deportation priorities

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday he’s re-evaluating the Obama administration’s deportation priorities to make certain they’re focused on national security, public safety and border security, amid growing pressure from the Latino community and President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats. 

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rethinking Pot 420_Rich copy.jpg Public smoke-out marks pot holiday in Colorado

    Tens of thousands of revelers raised joints, pipes and vaporizer devices to the sky Sunday at a central Denver park in a defiant toast to the April 20 pot holiday, a once-underground celebration that stepped into the mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Submarine Sleep Sched_Rich copy.jpg Navy OKs changes for submariners’ sleep schedules

    With no sunlight to set day apart from night on a submarine, the U.S. Navy for decades has staggered sailors’ working hours on schedules with little resemblance to life above the ocean’s surface.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Grim work for families as more bodies discovered

    There are no names listed as relatives huddle around signboards to identify bodies from a sunken ferry. Just the slimmest of clues about mostly young lives now lost. Many favored hoodies and track pants. One girl painted her fingernails red and toenails black. Another had braces on her teeth.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP600421099 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, April 21, 2014

    Today is Monday, April 21, the 111th day of 2014. There are 254 days left in the year.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Space Robot_Rich copy.jpg NASA’s Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Nepal Everest Avalanc_Rich copy.jpg Another body pulled from snow in avalanche

    Search teams recovered a 13th body Saturday from the snow and ice covering a dangerous climbing pass on Mount Everest, where an avalanche a day earlier swept over a group of Sherpa guides in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results