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US warns Syria of 'accountability' after chemical attack

27 August, 2013

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WASHINGTON: The United States said on Tuesday that chemical weapons had been used against Syrian civilians and warned President Barack Obama would demand accountability for this "moral obscenity".

Employing his strongest language yet, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was still examining evidence, but left no doubt that Bashar al-Assad's regime would be blamed.

"What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality," he said, in a televised statement from the State Department.

"Let me be clear. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity," he said.

"By any standard it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable."UN inspectors earlier visited the scene of the suspected chemical weapons attack near the Syrian capital.

A report by UN inspectors on the alleged use of chemical weapons is yet come on surface but Kerry said that independent reports of an atrocity were credible and said that the United States would soon present more concrete evidence of its own.

"Moreover, we know that the Syrian regime maintains custody of these chemical weapons. We know that the Syrian regime has the capacity to do this with rockets," he said."We know that the regime has been determined to clear the opposition from those very places where the attacks took place. And with our own eyes, we have all of us become witnesses," he said.

"We have additional information about this attack, and that information is being compiled and reviewed together with our partners, and we will provide that information in the days ahead," he said.

"Our sense of basic humanity is offended not only by this cowardly crime, but also by the cynical attempt to cover it up."And, amid reports that US and allied forces are preparing to launch cruise missile strikes against the Syrian regime, Kerry warned that the chemical attack would have consequences.

"Make no mistake. President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons. Nothing today is more serious, and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny."

UN experts said they had gathered "valuable" evidence Monday on the suspected attack despite coming under sniper fire.Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called for a "firm response" to the deadly gas attack in Syria, following discussions with the Nato country's allies.

"Canada is incredibly outraged by the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Such an attack demands a firm response from the international community," Baird told a press conference.

The minister said he has been in "very close contact" with his US and British counterparts in recent days and vowed to "continue to work with them in lock step."

"Canada believes that the only way to halt the bloodshed in Syria is through a political solution," Baird commented. "However, we understand that this solution is becoming more and more difficult as the crisis enters a very dangerous new phase... a new dark chapter in this conflict."

"Canada will continue to work closely with our international partners to review a full range of options going forward," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told British Prime Minister David Cameron that there was no evidence yet that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons against rebels, Cameron's office said.

During a telephone call between the two leaders, Putin said that "they did not have evidence of whether a chemical weapons attack had taken place or who was responsible," according to a Downing Street spokesman.

Cameron insisted that there was "little doubt" Bashar al-Assad's regime had carried out a chemical attack, according to a readout of the telephone conversation.

The British leader doubted that the rebels had the capability to carry out such an attack and pointed out that the regime had launched a heavy offensive in the area in the days before and after the incident.

"The regime had also prevented UN access in the immediate aftermath, suggesting they had something to hide," he told Putin.

However, the pair did both repeat their commitment to an agreement reached by G8 leaders in June, which resolved that no-one should use chemical weapons and any use would merit a serious response from the international community.

Russian news agency Ria-Novosti, quoting the Kremlin press office, said the conversation had "focused mainly on the situation in Syria against the backdrop of media reports on the possible use of chemical weapons near Damascus".

Western nations have upped the rhetoric since reports that chemical weapons were used last week and Britain maintains there is evidence suggesting the regime was responsible.

Cameron already spoke with US President Barack Obama over the weekend to formulate a response to the escalation in the 29-month-old Syrian conflict.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said an international response was possible without the formal backing of the United Nations.

Russia, also a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, has repeatedly warned Washington and its allies against military action in Syria.

Syrian President Assad has denied using chemical weapons and warned that any Western strikes against his regime would be doomed to failure.

Moscow, which has backed him throughout the crisis, urged Washington not to preempt the results of the UN inspection and warned that any military action would be a "tragic mistake".

Cameron's office said the British government will decide on Tuesday whether to recall lawmakers to debate the situation sooner than September 2, when the House is currently due to return.

Cameron also spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on Sunday about Syria, having spoken to US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Saturday.Some British politicians have demanded the recall of parliament from its summer break to debate Syria.


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