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White House: Obama Could Order Attack on Syria

The White House announced that President Barack Obama could authorize a military attack against Syria following reports that government forces used chemical weapons against rebel fighters.

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at a Friday press briefing that the Obama administration reserves numerous options for dealing with Syria in light of reports that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons during the country’s long-raging civil war.

While Carney said he could not speculate on what, if any, action President Obama would take against the Syrian regime, he told reporters that “as a general principle the United States retains the ability to act unilaterally.”

Obama has previously stated that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a “red line” that would have “enormous consequences” for the Assad regime.

During a Friday afternoon Oval Office meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, Obama called the reports that Syrian forces were using chemical weapons a “game-changer.”

“Horrific as it is when mortars are being fired on civilians and people are being indiscriminately killed, to use potential weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line with respect to international norms and international law,” Obama said.

“That is going to be a game-changer,” he continued. “We have to act prudently. We have to make these assessments deliberately. But I think all of us… recognize how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron called the situation “disturbing.”

“It’s extremely serious, this is a war crime, and we should take it seriously,” he told the BBC.

Syrian officials denied that government forces were using chemical weapons. Syrian lawmaker Sharif Shehadeh said the country’s military “can win the war with traditional weapons” and called Israeli and US claims “lies.”

“What is being designed for Syria now is similar to what happened in Iraq when Colin Powell lied to the [UN] Security Council and said Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction prior to the US invasion and occupation of that country,” Shehadeh said.

Careful to avoid a repeat of the Iraq intelligence debacle, President Obama stressed that the US needs more proof that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons before deciding what course of action to take. Obama said the US, along with the United Nations, would “gather evidence on the ground” in Syria before making any decisions involving potential military action.

On Tuesday, the Israeli military asserted that Syrian government forces had probably used the deadly nerve agent sarin “in a number of incidents,” as well as other, non-lethal, chemical weapons.

On Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed skepticism about Israel’s claim.

“Suspicions are one thing, evidence is another,” Hagel said.

On Thursday, the White House announced that the administration and US intelligence agencies believe “with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.”

On Friday, Israeli deputy foreign minister Zev Elkin urged the US to consider attacking Syria to deal with the threat posed by the Assad regime’s chemical weapons.

“The Iranians are watching, the whole world is watching too,” Elkin told Israel Army Radio.

Then, challenging President Obama’s “red line” comment, Elkin said that “there is a question here of when you set a red line, do you stand behind it?”

The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 people have been killed since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in March 2011. Both Assad’s forces and the various anti-government rebel groups fighting to overthrow the regime have been accused of horrific atrocities, including the widespread slaughter of innocent civilians.

Russia, Iran and China continue to stand behind the Assad regime, providing weapons and diplomatic support. The United States, the European Union, the Arab League and Turkey– as well as the terrorist group Al-Qaeda— are among those who support the rebels.

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