Israeli Intelligence Backs Reports of Latest Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria

Intelligence minister criticizes international community over inaction; France says retaliation necessary if reports are true, Turkey says Syria has crossed all 'red lines.'

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Israeli intelligence believes that Wednesday's reports of a chemical attack in Damascus are credible, a senior Israeli official said on Thursday.

Yuval Steinitz, the minister for intelligence and strategic affairs, told Israel Radio that it is Israel's intelligence assessment that President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians on Wednesday.

This was not the first time chemical warfare was used by Assad in the Syrian civil war, he said, joining Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon who said on Wednesday that the Syrian regime has already used chemical weapons multiple times.

On Wednesday, activists claimed that hundreds were killed in a gas attack in a Damascus suburb. Syria's military command denied the claims.

Steinitz said condemnations made by the international community were mere lip service, since no significant steps were taken to stop Assad. When asked of the United Nations mission to Syria, the minister said that the investigations were not serious.

"The UN is not investigating yesterday's (Wednesday) incident, but events from six months and a year ago Probing the use of chemical weapons without investigating who used it is ridicules," he said.

A team of UN inspectors had arrived in Damascus on Sunday to investigate claims of chemical weapons use.

Britain on Wednesday said it would raise the reports at the United Nations Security Council and called on Damascus to give UN inspectors access to the site. Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday that proof of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would require a "reaction of force" by the international community.

Fabius, speaking to BFM TV, lamented that the UN Security Council's reaction to Wednesday's attack on the outskirts of Damascus had been "quite ambiguous."

If the opposition's claims that Assad's forces had killed hundreds of people in a chemical attack Wednesday were true, "there are ways of retaliating," he said, citing fellow permanent Security Council members the United States and Britain among possible allies in such a response.

Fabius refused to be drawn on what such a reaction might entail but said there was "no question" of a ground intervention.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday "all red lines" had been crossed in Syria and criticized international inaction.

"All red lines have been crossed but still the UN Security Council has not even been able to take a decision. This is a responsibility for the sides who still set these red lines and for all of us," Davutoglu told reporters in Berlin.

Syrian activists inspect the bodies of people they say were killed by nerve gas in the Ghouta region, in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus August 21, 2013Credit: Reuters
A Syrian man holds up a placard during a vigil in Beirut against the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.Credit: AP

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