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Americans oppose Syria intervention, as West mulls ‘serious response’

Published time: August 25, 2013 05:07
AFP Photo / Gregory Badger

AFP Photo / Gregory Badger

As Obama’s advisers have presented options for responding to an alleged chemical attack in Syria, the US president and British PM agreed on Saturday that “use of chemical weapons would merit a serious response.”

However, the American public shows no willingness to get involved in another costly conflict in the Middle East, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll suggests.

Only 9 percent of the surveyed believe President Barack Obama should take action on Syria, while some 60 percent of Americans said the United States should not intervene in Syria's bloody civil war.

According to the poll taken on August 19-23, 25 percent of Americans would back intervention if it is proven that the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against civilians, while almost double that number – 46 percent – would still oppose such a move.

Obama discussed the latest developments in Syria with British PM David Cameron on Saturday and both expressed grave concern over the alleged Wednesday attack. "They reiterated that significant use of chemical weapons would merit a serious response from the international community and both have tasked officials to examine all the options," said a spokesperson for Cameron.

On Saturday, Obama received a "detailed review of a range of potential options" he requested his advisers to prepare for the US and the international community to respond to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. The statement from the White House did not provide any details about the options presented. “In coordination with international partners and mindful of the dozens of contemporaneous witness accounts and records of the symptoms of those killed, the US intelligence community continues to gather facts to ascertain what occurred,” the statement read.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.(Reuters / Kevin Lamarque )

Speaking at a press conference in Malaysia on Sunday, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel indicated that the US military is ready to exercise options on Syria, should Obama choose military action. “President Obama has asked the Defense Department to prepare options for all contingencies. We have done that and we are prepared to exercise whatever option - if he decides to employ one of those options," Hagel told reporters.

Earlier on Friday he suggested that the Pentagon is moving naval forces closer to Syria in preparation for a possible decision by Obama. Reports say that among the military options under consideration are missile strikes on Syrian units believed to be responsible for chemical attacks, or on Assad's air force and ballistic missile sites.

Obama himself, however, has been cautious about intervention in Syria. In Friday's interview with CNN, the president said the United States should be wary of “being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.”

The Syrian government, which blames rebel forces for the alleged attack, has warned against any military action against Damascus, saying such a move would set the Middle East ablaze. Meanwhile on Saturday, Syrian state media reported that rebels have used chemical weapons against regime forces in the Damascus suburb of Jobar, where soldiers discovered stockpiles of toxic poisoning antidotes.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has said that nearly 3,600 patients with neurotoxic symptoms were treated in three Damascus hospitals on the day a toxic gas attack was reported, while 355 patients were reportedly pronounced dead.
The international medical humanitarian organization said it received information from hospitals it has been supporting in Syria.  At the same time, MSF director of operations, Dr. Bart Janssens said in a press-release published on the organization’s webpage that they are unable to “establish who is responsible for the attack”.

A boy, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, is treated at a medical center in the Damascus suburbs of Saqba, August 21, 2013 (Reuters / Bassam Khabieh)

The revelation by MSF happened within a week of a UN investigative team entering the country to examine three different sites of alleged chemical weapons usage. It was also just hours after UN disarmament chief, Angela Kane, arrived in the Syrian capital of Damascus to apply pressure on the Syrian government to grant access to the site of the reported attack in the Damascus suburbs on Wednesday.

Moscow has commented that it was monitoring events surrounding the alleged attack. “We’re getting more new evidence that this criminal act was of a provocative nature,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich, said in a statement on Friday.

In particular, there are reports circulating on the Internet that the materials of the incident and accusations against government troops had been posted for several hours before the so-called attack. Thus, it was a pre-planned action,” he said.

Professor of International Law at Georgetown University, Daoud Khairallah, told RT that the US would not act without verifiable evidence.

The US can’t take any action without verifiable evidence about who is the party who is responsible. If it turns out that it was the rebels that used this poisonous material, the US will be embarrassed because it will be the allies of US, the opposition the US has been supporting and claiming that these are people who are seeking democracy and rule of law in Syria.”

The US would like to prove that it was the regime who has done this, but it has not been independently proved or verified and without independent verification I doubt that Obama will act. Obama did say that ‘we need to be sure who has used these weapons, evaluate the costs to the US both financially and morally, we need international approval.’”

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