chemical weapons

JERUSALEM — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the United States is investigating whether chemical weapons have been deployed in Syria, but he’s “deeply skeptical” of claims by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime that rebel forces were behind such an attack.

Both the Assad regime and Syrian rebels have accused each other of using chemical weapons in an attack on Tuesday that the government says killed 31 and wounded more than 100. But Obama suggested it’s more likely that if the weapons were used, the Syrian government was behind the attack.

“We know the Syrian government has the capacity to carry out chemical weapon attacks,” Obama said. “We know that there are those are in the Syrian government who have expressed a willingness to use chemical weapons if necessary to protect themselves. I am deeply skeptical of any claim that in fact it was the opposition that used chemical weapons. Everybody who knows the facts of the chemical weapons stockpiles inside of Syria as well as the Syrian government capabilities, I think, would question those claims.”

In this Monday photo, a Syrian man runs for cover during heavy fighting betwen Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in Aleppo, Syria.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIRUT — Syria’s civil war is closing in on President Bashar Assad’s seat of power in Damascus with clashes between government forces and rebels flaring around the city Tuesday, raising fears the capital will become the next major battlefield in the 20-month-old conflict.

Numerous reports emerged of at least a dozen people killed near the ancient city and elsewhere, and the regime said nine students and a teacher died from rebel mortar fire on a school. The state news agency originally said 30 people had been killed in the attack.

While many of the mostly poor, Sunni Muslim suburbs ringing Damascus have long been opposition hotbeds, fighting has intensified in the area in recent weeks as rebels press a battle they hope will finish Assad’s regime.

“The push to take Damascus is a real one, and intense pressure to take control of the city is part of a major strategic shift by rebel commanders,” said Mustafa Alani of the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center. “They have realized that without bringing the fight to Damascus, the regime will not collapse.”

The increased pressure has raised worries that he or his forces will resort to desperate measures, perhaps striking neighbors Turkey or Israel, or using chemical weapons.

NATO foreign ministers approved Turkey’s request for Patriot anti-missile systems to be deployed along its southern border to defend against possible strikes from Syria.

“We stand with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters after the meeting in Brussels. “To anyone who would want to attack Turkey, we say, ‘Don’t even think about it!’”

Before the meeting, Fogh Rasmussen said he expected any use of chemical weapons to get an “immediate reaction from the international community.”

On Monday, President Barack Obama said there would be consequences if Assad made the “tragic mistake” of deploying chemical weapons, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he agreed with the U.S. position.

“We are of the same opinion, that these weapons should not be used and must not reach terror groups,” Netanyahu said.

U.S. intelligence has seen signs that Syria is moving materials inside chemical weapons facilities recently, though it is unsure what the movement means. Still, U.S. officials said the White House and its allies are weighing military options should they decide to secure Syria’s chemical and biological weapons.

In July, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a news conference that Syria would only use chemical or biological weapons in case of foreign attack, not against its own people. The ministry then tried to blur the issue, saying it had never acknowledged having such weapons.

Printed on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 as: Syrian fighting approaches Damascus

AMSTERDAM — The international chemical weapons watchdog says stockpiles captured so far in Libya are in line with what Moammar Gadhafi’s regime had previously declared, and no new weapons have been found.

The fate of the country’s chemical weapons and precursors had been uncertain amid the chaos of the country’s civil war.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Thursday remaining stockpiles appear under control after being seized by fighters for the country’s new government last week.

Printed on September 30, 2011 as: Libyan chemical weapons found