Syria crisis: US bolsters navy presence as military options discussed after Damascus massacre

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

White House weighs military options, while Hague blames regime for atrocity

Diplomatic Correspondent

UN representative Angela Kane has arrived in Syria to push for access to a suspected chemical weapons attack site, as Bashar al-Assad’s regime was accused by Western leaders today of being responsible for the massacre of 1,300 people with chemical weapons.

Russia, the Syrian President’s strongest ally, asked him to co-operate with UN inspectors, but also claimed that the attack may have been carried out by the rebels.

It has emerged, in the meantime, that senior members of the US administration have met in the White House to discuss a possible response to the massacre in Ghouta, an eastern suburb of Damascus, with options including Tomahawk launches and a more sustained air campaign.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon was "positioning our forces" ahead of "whatever options the president might choose" as its navy presence in the eastern Mediterranean was bolstered.

However, no immediate action is likely with divisions within the military and diplomatic leadership.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, remains staunchly opposed to armed intervention while others, including Susan Rice, the UN representative, had been pressing for action which would send an unequivocal message to the Damascus regime.

With more graphic and shocking footage appearing of the killings, the growing consensus was that chemical weapons had been used with the US and western European states holding President Assad responsible.

Barack Obama, who had in the past declared that the use of weapons of mass destruction would cross a “red line”, said, “What we’ve seen indicates that this is clearly an event of grave concern. This is something that is going to require America’s attention.”

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, held: “The only possible explanation of what we have been able to see is that it was a chemical attack.

“So we believe this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime on a large scale… It was the only plausible explanation for casualties so intense in such a small area.”

The odds that rebels had staged the attack to “frame” the regime, said the Foreign Secretary, were “vanishingly small”.

Mr Hague spoke on the phone today to the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, as well as Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, stressing that the inspectors must get access to the affected area from the regime as soon as possible.

Prolonged delay would make the collection of viable evidence impossible and, if that happens, the UK intends to take the issue back to the Security Council.

A UN spokesman said that Mr Ban was “deeply troubled” by reports of the alleged attack.

“He expects to receive a positive response without delay.”

The high representative for disarmament, Angela Kane, was on her way to Damascus to press the regime for inspectors to be given access to the affected areas.

The opposition said it was trying to move survivors out of the area to safer places where they could receive treatment. 

The Russian foreign ministry claimed in a statement, meanwhile, “a homemade rocket loaded with an unidentified chemical agent” was used in the attack which was “probably a provocation” by the opposition to implicate President Assad.

But the Kremlin failed to provide any further details to back up the charge.

 The Syrian Deputy Prime Minister, Qadri Jamil, saw a foreign hand at work, “since no Syrian can do this to each other”.

In their version of events, opposition activists said that the first rockets bearing nerve agents were fired from a bridge on the highway from Damascus to Homs and others were launched from the Sironex factory in the Qabun district of the capital.

The areas are under regime control.

Mr Lavrov, in a telephone call to Mr Kerry, acknowledged that it was in the interest of both the countries for an investigation to take place.

“It is now up to the opposition to ensure safe access for the mission to the site of the alleged incident,” he is reported to have stressed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us