Syria: Obama skeptical of a chemical weapon attack by rebels
In Israel on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated his view that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a 'red line.' The Assad regime would be 'held accountable' if they were to use chemical weapons, said Obama.
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The president's first comments on the reports came shortly after the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, told Congress of an untenable situation in Syria as the civil war grinds into its third year. The United Nations has estimated 70,000 have been killed, more than 1 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries and 2.5 million have been displaced internally.Skip to next paragraph
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The Syrian people "face a new level of ruthlessness from the Assad regime, which is raining Scud missiles down on residential neighborhoods, destroying hospitals and schools, and sending its thugs rampaging through the streets to terrorize their fellow citizens. The carnage is appalling," Ford said.
He insisted that the ideal outcome is a "negotiated political transition" to the crisis without Assad.
Ford said the military balance is turning against the Assad regime, which has lost some critical strategic locations such as the borders with Turkey and Iraq. The ambassador also said there has been heavy fighting in Damascus "right up close to where the president lives."
Ford said Iran is increasing its military assistance to Assad's regime and the outside help has persuaded him that he can prevail.
"I think today he still thinks he can win militarily with help from Russia, from Iran, from Lebanese Hezbollah," Ford said. "But I think he also must understand as his windows rattle, because the fighting is getting closer, he must be thinking about whether or not his calculations are correct."
Ford was pressed repeatedly about what military action the United States might take but declined to speculate at the public hearing. Lawmakers uneasy with military involvement — or even the prospect of arming the opposition — reflected a war-weariness after more than a decade of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Republican Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who noted the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq this week, repeatedly tried to get Ford to elaborate for Congress and the American people about what could happen next in Syria if chemical weapons were used.
Ford declined. Perry, alluding to Iraq, said, "We don't want the current administration making the mistake of past administrations."
In fact, no consensus has emerged in Congress about what further steps should be taken to break the stalemate in Syria. Some, such as Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, favor strikes on Syrian air defenses, establishment of a no-fly zone and arming the opposition.
Others, like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said Wednesday that providing weapons to the Syrian opposition risks having the weapons fall into the wrong hands.
"The unknown can be dangerous and the vetting of the opposition is not enough when it comes to providing lethal aid that could be used against our allies, such as Israel, or the United States in a post-Assad era," she said.
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this report.