U.S. officials have concluded that the Syrian regime of president Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against rebel fighters, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
In a statement released on Thursday, the White House says U.S. intelligence concluded that the Assad regime used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent Sarin, against rebel fighters in the last year.
The statement continues:
Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information. The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete. While the lethality of these attacks make up only a small portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria, which now stands at more than 90,000 deaths, the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades. We believe that the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons. We have no reliable, corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.
The White House reiterates that President Obama has designated the use of chemical weapons as a red line and that the U.S. will increase its assistance to the opposition.
"Our intelligence community now has a high confidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale by the Assad regime in Syria. The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has," the statement says.
National Security Council deputy advisor Ben Rhodes said on Thursday that the President Obama reached a decision on what the new support for the Syrian opposition would look like. According to Buzzfeed, Rhodes said: “The president has made a decision ”about what kind of additional support will be provided to the rebels. It will be “direct support to the SMC [Supreme Military Command] that includes military support.” Rhodes added that no decision has been made on the institution of a no-fly zone.
More from the Associated Press:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States has conclusive evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime has used chemical weapons against opposition forces seeking to overthrow the government, crossing what President Barack Obama has called a "red line" that would trigger greater American involvement in the crisis, the White House said Thursday.
Officials said Obama was considering both political and military options, but it was unclear how quickly new actions would be taken and what they would involve.
"We've prepared for many contingencies in Syria," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. "We are going to make decisions on further actions on our own timeline."
The White House said the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale multiple times in the last year. Up to 150 people have been killed in those attacks, the White House said, constituting a small percentage of the 93,000 people killed in Syria over the last two years.
The Obama administration announced in April that it had "varying degrees of confidence" that sarin had been used in Syria. But they said at the time that they had not been able to determine who was responsible for deploying the gas.
The more conclusive findings announced Thursday were aided by evidence sent to the United States by France, which along with Britain, announced it had determined that Assad's government had used chemical weapons in the two-year conflict.
Obama has said repeatedly that the use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" and constitute a "game changer" for U.S. policy on Syria, which until now has focused entirely on providing the opposition with nonlethal assistance and humanitarian aid.
The White House said Congress has been notified of the new U.S. chemical weapons determination, as have international allies. Obama will discuss the assessments, along with broader problems in Syria, next week during the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland.
Obama is also expected to press Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad's most powerful backers, to drop his political and military support for the Syrian government.
"We believe that Russia and all members of the international community should be concerned about the use of chemical weapons," Rhodes said.