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Obama's trip has been overshadowed by claims that chemical weapons have been used in neighboring Syria, which has been m

Aug 15th 2019, 10:01 pm
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Updated 3:17 p.m. ET

TEL AVIV, Israel President Barack Obama plunged into the turbulent Middle East on a mission aimed primarily at assuring America's top ally in the region and its friends back home that it will not be forsaken amid bitter domestic political squabbles and budget crises in Washington.

But Mr. Obama's trip has been overshadowed by claims that chemical weapons have been used in neighboring Syria, which has been mired in a civil war for more than two years - a development that, if true, could draw the U.S. deeper into the conflict.

The Assad regime and Syrian rebels traded accusations Tuesday that chemical weapons were used in the northern city of Aleppo - claims that could not be backed up by definitive evidence.

President Obama has declared that the use, deployment or transfer of the weapons "red line" that would cause the U.S. and others to become more deeply involved in the Syrian conflict, a claim he reiterated Wednesday during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"We have been clear that the use of chemical weapons would be a serious and tragic mistake," Mr. Obama said.

However when pressed on whether or not reports of Tuesday's alleged chemical weapons attack had crossed that line, the U.S. president was hesitant.

"We intend to investigate thoroughly exactly what happened," President Obama said.

Mr. Obama was clear though that he did not believe reports that anyone but the Assad regime carried out the attack.

"We know the Syrian government has the capacity to carry out chemical weapons attack" and that some within the government have expressed a desire to do so, President Obama said. "I am deeply skeptical of any claim that in fact it was the opposition who used chemical weapons"

Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said there is no conclusive evidence yet that a chemical weapons attack even took place.

"We have no evidence to substantiate the reports that chemical weapons were used, but we are looking very carefully at these reports," Ford told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

While the White House is sifting through conflicting data and has not reached a conclusion, Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on "CBS This Morning" Wednesday that there was a "high probability" a chemical agent was deployed.

Rogers said the U.S. knows "there has been some forensic evidence that at least small quantities" of chemical agents used, but cited no concrete evidence other than the regime's pattern of escalating attacks, including the firing of Scud missiles into opposition-controlled areas.

Rogers said this is "the time to act. Don't wait until we have 5,000 dead," though he didn't advocate the use of American ground troops, saying "we have lots of capabilities in the United States arsenal, where it wouldn't require boots on the ground ... to remove their capability of using these particular weapons."

A senior Israeli official also said Wednesday that it is "apparently clear" that chemical weapons were recently used in Syria, and that the alleged attack will be a main topic of conversation with Mr. Obama.

Yuval Steinitz, the newly appointed minister of intelligence and 동두천출장만남 strategic affairs, did not say how he came to the conclusion that the weapons were used. He would not comment on whether it was Assad forces or the rebels that used them, saying it was not important.

Israel has repeatedly expressed concern that Syria's chemical arsenal could fall into the hands of anti-Israel militants like Lebanon's Hezbollah, an Assad ally, or an al Qaeda-linked group fighting with the rebels.

Even as some officials suggested the chemical weapons had been used, doubts persist.

"I am extremely skeptical that this was a chemical warfare incident," Jean Pascal Zanders, an expert in chemical and biological warfare, told CBSNews.com. "It may have been a chemical incident - not necessarily a military agent, but an industrial agent.

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