The United States now has little doubt the Syrian government used chemical weapons against civilians last week, and President Barack Obama is studying how to respond, a senior official in the US administration said on Sunday.
"Based on the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, witness accounts, and other facts gathered by open sources, the US intelligence community, and international partners, there is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident," the official told Reuters.
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The official made clear the Syrian government's agreement to let United Nations inspectors visit the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack was inadequate.
"At this juncture, any belated decision by the regime to grant access to the UN team would be considered too late to be credible, including because the evidence available has been significantly corrupted as a result of the regime's persistent shelling and other intentional actions over the last five days," the official said.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday it has agreed to allow UN inspectors access to sites in suburbs of Damascus where alleged chemical attacks occurred last week.
The US official said the administration had seen reports that Syria would provide access on Monday, but said that if the government had nothing to hide, it would have allowed investigators to visit the site five days ago.
President Barack Obama is evaluating how to respond to the incident, the official said.
"We are continuing to assess the facts so the president can make an informed decision about how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons," the official added.
Senior US lawmakers called on Sunday for limited US military action in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack.
"I certainly would do cruise missile strikes," said Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News he thought Obama would "respond in a surgical way."
"I hope the president as soon as we get back to Washington will ask for authorization from Congress to do something in a very surgical and proportional way," he said.
Two other Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, issued a statement calling for "stand-off" strikes, such as by cruise missiles, to degrade the government's air power and help establish "safe areas" on the ground.
Bodies of Syrian children after alleged chemical attack (Photo: Reuters)
Victims of alleged chemical attack (Photo: Reuters)
Russia stated on Sunday that assigning blame too soon over the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria would be a "tragic mistake", ahead of a United Nations' investigation on Monday.
"We strongly urge those who by trying to impose their opinion on UN experts ahead of the results of an investigation ... to exercise discretion and not make tragic mistakes," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Earlier Sunday, Syria has agreed to allow UN inspectors access to sites in suburbs of Damascus where alleged chemical attacks occurred last week, the Syria Foreign Ministry said in a statement broadcast on state television.
"The Syrian government and the United Nations agreed on a common understanding ... to allow the United Nations to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in the Damascus suburbs on Aug 22, 2013," the statement said, giving the wrong date for the mass poisoning, which took place on Aug 21.
Many hundreds of people were poisoned to death on Wednesday before dawn in what appears to have been the world's worst chemical weapons attack since Saddam Hussein's forces gassed thousands of Iraqi Kurdish villagers in 1988.
Children's bodies laid out after attack (Photo: Reuters)
Syria has denied that it was to blame for last week's incident. Rebels and many Western officials believe the poisoning was caused by a chemical agent used in a rocket attack carried out by government forces.
The incident took place just three days after a UN chemical weapons team arrived in Syria to investigate other smaller allegations of poison gas use. The inspector team's movements must be agreed with the Syrian authorities.
Bodies of victims of alleged chemical weapons attack (Photo: Reuters)
The Syrian statement said that the date and time of the inspectors' visit to the site had been agreed, but it did not say when it would take place.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem met UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane – who was in Damascus to negotiate access – on Sunday morning, it said.
Moualem "stressed Syria's readiness to cooperate with a team of investigators to uncover false allegations by terrorist groups that Syrian troops used chemical weapons in (Damascus).
US President Barack Obama and top advisers are debating options for responding to the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria amid what Britain called "increasing signs" that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack.
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