(TheBlaze/AP) — The Obama administration flatly rejected a claim by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government that the U.S.-backed Syrian rebels used chemical weapons on Tuesday, calling it a desperate attempt by a beleaguered regime to distract attention from its own ledger of atrocities in two years of civil war.
A U.S. official went further and said there was no evidence either side had used such weapons Tuesday in an attack in northern Syria, disputing a competing claim by rebels that it was regime forces who fired the chemical weapon. Spokespeople for the White House and the State Department rejected only the Assad regime’s charge.
In addition to being horrifying on a human level, the use of chemical weapons is of international significance since President Obama’s repeated rule in the conflict has been that their use would be a “red line” that would trigger outside intervention.
“At this time we have no evidence to substantiate that charge, and [we] are skeptical, deeply, of a regime that might make that charge, given that the regime has lost all credibility in the eyes of the Syrian people and of the world,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney remarked. “Having said that, we are obviously assessing the reports…”
Syria’s state-run news agency said 25 people were killed in the attack on the Khan al-Assad village in northern Aleppo province that sparked the chemical weapon controversy. 86 people were reportedly wounded, some in critical condition, and pictures show children and others on stretchers in what appeared to be a hospital ward.
The origin of the attack is still unclear, according to an official who refused to be named, but the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also is reporting no independent information of chemical weapons use.
But Russia, which has steadfastly supported Assad in Syria’s two-year civil war, backed Assad’s assertion Tuesday.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the rebel use of chemical weapons represented an “extremely dangerous” development in a conflict that has already killed 70,000 people. It said the rebels detonated a munition containing an unidentified chemical agent, but didn’t give further details.
Carney said “there will be consequences” if it is discovered chemical weapons were deployed, adding: “This is an issue that has been made very clear by the president to be of great to concern to us.”
Here’s video of Carney’s remarks:
Syria has one of the world’s largest arsenals of chemical weapons and Washington has been on high alert since last year for any possible use or transfer of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces. It feared that an increasingly desperate regime might turn to the stockpiles in a bid to defeat the rebellion or transfer dangerous agents to militant groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which the Syrian government has long supported.
At the time, officials noted movement of some of the Syrian stockpiles but said none appeared to be deployed for imminent use.
But U.S. officials say they’ve been closely monitoring Syria’s unconventional weapons stockpiles and coordinating with allies in the region and beyond on possible contingency plans in the event the weapons are no longer secure. They’ve provided no indication that Syrian rebels seized some of the stockpiles or acquired such weaponry in recent months.
This is a breaking news story. Updates will be added.