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Evidence of Chemical Warfare in Syria Is Limited

The U.S. has said that Syria has probably used chemical weapons against rebel forces on a “small scale,” but emphasized that intelligence services were still not 100 percent sure.

U.S. intelligence agencies have investigated reports from Syrian opposition groups that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used sarin gas on at least two occasions during the two-year-old conflict.

“Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria,” Caitlin Hayden, a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson, said on Thursday.

Friday two Syrian officials denied the U.S. accusations, which are supported by Britain. A senior Syrian official said Damascus did not and would not use chemical weapons, even if it had them.

Syrian official Sharif Shehadeh called the U.S. claims “lies” and likened them to the false accusations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the U.S. invasion of that country.

Hayden  said that the U.S. assessment was based in part on “physiological samples” and pointed to the possible use of sarin, a man-made nerve agent used in two attacks in Japan in the 1990s. It can cause convulsions, respiratory failure and death.

However, Hayden said the chain of custody of the weapons was “not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions”.

Britain’s prime minister David Cameron backed the U.S. assessment Friday, saying there is growing evidence of chemical weapons use.

President Barack Obama has declared that the deployment of chemical weapons would be a game-changer and has threatened unspecified consequences if it happened. Even so, the Obama administration would likely move carefully, mindful of the lessons of the start of the Iraq war more than a decade ago.

At the time, the U.S. administration used inaccurate intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq in pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that were not there.

Cameron said on Friday that he agreed with Obama that the use of chemical weapons would represent a  “red line” for the international community.

Read more on Al Jazeera

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