Kerry states case for action against 'inconceivable horror' of Syria's chemical weapons



New York // US Secretary of State John Kerry laid out the case for military action against Syria yesterday, saying there was "clear" evidence that more than 1,400 people were killed in a chemical weapons attack carried out by the government of Bashar Al Assad.

As a team of UN investigators finished gathering samples related to the attack in suburbs near Damascus, Mr Kerry laid out evidence he said proved that Mr Al Assad's military was responsible.

"This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity, this crime against the most fundamental principles of international community, against the norm of the international community, this matters to us," Mr Kerry said yesterday.

According to the unclassified four-page US intelligence report released yesterday, the attacks killed 1,429 civilians including 426 children, figures higher than had previously been reported.

Mr Kerry said any military response would be "limited and tailored" to ensure that "a despot is held accountable ... for flagrant use of chemical weapons".

After Mr Kerry's speech, US President Barack Obama said that he was still mulling a "narrow, limited" strike on Syria. He stressed that he was yet to make a final decision about what action to take but said that "in no event" would it involve US troops on the ground.

"Read for yourselves the evidence from thousands of sources," Mr Kerry said. "This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons. This is what Assad did to his own people."

In an attempt to tie Mr Al Assad directly to the attack, the report describes him as "the ultimate decision maker for the chemical weapons programme" and that officers in charge of chemical weapons are "carefully vetted to ensure … loyalty".

The intelligence contained in the report included intercepted communications by a senior Syrian military official with detailed knowledge of the August 21 attack as well as other intercepted government messages. It also contained human sources of intelligence on the ground, open source information from social media and local NGOs and satellite imagery.

Satellite images showed that the rocket and artillery attacks originated in a government-controlled area in Damascus and struck rebel-held neighbourhoods.

This account confirmed details reported by Turkey's state news agency Anadolu yesterday that 15 to 20 rockets with chemical warheads were fired by the Syrian military's 155 Missile Brigade in Qutayfa, about 30km outside of Damascus.

The Turkish report also said that chemical weapons were fired from positions of the 4th Armoured Division, which is commanded by Mr Al Assad's brother, Maher, from Mount Qasioun, 10km from Damascus.

Mr Kerry said the White House had "high confidence" in the veracity of the evidence collected in the report and promised that it had been carefully reviewed and that it was done so "more than mindful of the Iraq experience". In a reference to the false intelligence that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he said: "We will not repeat that moment".

Mr Kerry's statement also thanked America's "oldest friend" France, which had earlier yesterday pledged support for possible limited military strikes against Syria. The US had been left preparing to carry out the attack unilaterally in the face of a shock rejection of the action by Britain and mounting concerns in Congress.

The loss of British involvement after parliament voted against participating in the attack late on Thursday significantly increased pressure on Mr Obama, who has seen support by allies in Europe and the Middle East peel away from the strikes.

With authorisation for any attack by the United Nations Security Council guaranteed to be vetoed by Syria's main international ally Russia, Mr Obama has struggled to form an international coalition.

"The chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished," French President Francois Hollande said yesterday in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

The Arab League, which has supported the uprising against Mr Al Assad's regime, earlier in the week also backed down from support of US action, blaming the gas attack on Syria but insisting on a UN resolution for military action.

Despite the fraying international support, US officials said Mr Obama is prepared to act unilaterally if necessary to carry out what he described as a "shot across the bow" of Syria in the specific context of upholding a red line he set a year ago against chemical weapons use in the two-year civil war.

Mr Obama has resisted being dragged in to another war in the Middle East for two years and analysts say any strike will likely be an attempt to tip the scales in favour of the rebels.

"I think honestly that Mr Obama set that red line in the first place thinking it was very remote that he wouldn't have to do anything but once that line was crossed, the White House was caught in a trap of its own making," said David Pollock, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. "The White House probably figures it would be a disaster for American credibility if they change their mind because other countries did or because they didn't get a nod from the Arab League or UN."

US defence and intelligence officials also voiced growing concern that further delays because of diplomatic or domestic deliberations were making any plan of attack against Damascus more difficult and potentially more dangerous.

The Syrian military has used the delay to spread out its forces and military assets out of known military installations and around the country, potentially making cruise-missile strikes less effective, US officials told the Wall Street Journal.

The UN inspectors were expected to leave the country on Saturday. Some will deliver to European laboratories the material they gathered from the areas where the weapons are alleged to have been used.

Syrian state television reported yesterday that Damascus will reject any partial UN conclusions on an alleged chemical attack before full laboratory analyses are completed.

Saudi Arabia, one of the main military supporters of the Syrian rebels, has raised its military threat level from "five" to "two", with "one" being the highest, in preparation of the US attacks, Saudi military sources told Reuters.

tkhan@thenational.ae with additional reporting by Thomas Seibert in Istanbul

Bert van Marwijk factfile

Born: May 19 1952
Place of birth: Deventer, Netherlands
Playing position: Midfielder

Teams managed:
1998-2000 Fortuna Sittard
2000-2004 Feyenoord
2004-2006 Borussia Dortmund
2007-2008 Feyenoord
2008-2012 Netherlands
2013-2014 Hamburg
2015-2017 Saudi Arabia
2018 Australia

Major honours (manager):
2001/02 Uefa Cup, Feyenoord
2007/08 KNVB Cup, Feyenoord
World Cup runner-up, Netherlands

The specs

Engine: 2.3-litre 4cyl turbo
Power: 299hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 420Nm at 2,750rpm
Transmission: 10-speed auto
Fuel consumption: 12.4L/100km
On sale: Now
Price: From Dh157,395 (XLS); Dh199,395 (Limited)

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE.

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part two: how climate change drove the race for an alternative 

Read part one: how cars came to the UAE

Specs

Price, base: Dhs850,000
Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Power: 591bhp @ 7,500rpm
Torque: 760Nm @ 3,000rpm
Fuel economy, combined: 11.3L / 100km

Team Angel Wolf Beach Blast takes place every Wednesday between 4:30pm and 5:30pm

Company profile

Name: Homie Portal LLC

Started: End of 2021 

Founder: Abdulla Al Kamda 

Based: Dubai

Sector: FinTech 

Initial investment: Undisclosed 

Current number of staff: 14 

Investment stage: Launch 

Investors: Self-funded

Rankings

ATP: 1. Novak Djokovic (SRB) 10,955 pts; 2. Rafael Nadal (ESP) 8,320; 3. Alexander Zverev (GER) 6,475 (+1); 5. Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG) 5,060 (+1); 6. Kevin Anderson (RSA) 4,845 (+1); 6. Roger Federer (SUI) 4,600 (-3); 7. Kei Nishikori (JPN) 4,110 (+2); 8. Dominic Thiem (AUT) 3,960; 9. John Isner (USA) 3,155 (+1); 10. Marin Cilic (CRO) 3,140 (-3)

WTA: 1. Naomi Osaka (JPN) 7,030 pts (+3); 2. Petra Kvitova (CZE) 6,290 (+4); 3. Simona Halep (ROM) 5,582 (-2); 4. Sloane Stephens (USA) 5,307 (+1); 5. Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 5,100 (+3); 6. Angelique Kerber (GER) 4,965 (-4); 7. Elina Svitolina (UKR) 4,940; 8. Kiki Bertens (NED) 4,430 (+1); 9. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) 3,566 (-6); 10. Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) 3,485 (+1)

If you go

There are regular flights from Dubai to Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Airlines with return fares from Dh1,700. Nashulai Journeys offers tailormade and ready made trips in Africa while Tesfa Tours has a number of different community trekking tours throughout northern Ethiopia. The Ben Abeba Lodge has rooms from Dh228, and champions a programme of re-forestation in the surrounding area.



INVESTMENT PLEDGES

Cartlow: $13.4m

Rabbitmart: $14m

Smileneo: $5.8m

Soum: $4m

imVentures: $100m

Plug and Play: $25m

Long read
Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government