U.S. says unable to determine use of chemical weapons in Syria

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The United States said on Thursday it was unable to “conclusively determine” whether chemical weapons were used in a reported gas attack near Damascus where opposition said more than 1,300 people were killed.

“At this time right now, we are unable to conclusively determine CW use, but we are focused every minute of every day since these events happened yesterday on doing everything possible within our power to nail down the facts,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Psaki said President Barack Obama had directed U.S. intelligence to gather information about the reported attack near Damascus, according to AFP.

“That means gathering information from witnesses on the ground, it means intelligence gathering, it means open-source reporting, it means scientific gathering,” Psaki said, a acknowledging that it may be a challenging task given the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Syria.

With the death toll from Wednesday’s incident estimated between 500 and 1,300, it would be the world’s most lethal chemical weapons attack since the 1980s, according to Reuters.

Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken to his counterparts in Europe and the Middle East to better understand what happened and discuss “appropriate steps.”

The Obama administration previously said the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a “red line,” but fell short of acting when it announced later on June 13 that it had evidence that Assad’s forces crossed that line.

The United States was part of a group of about 36 countries who asked the United Nations on Wednesday to immediately investigate the alleged attacks. Syria’s government has offered no immediate public response to calls on Thursday for the U.N. to have access to the areas.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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