President Bashar al-Assad did not personally order last month’s chemical weapons attack near Damascus that has triggered calls for US military intervention, and blocked numerous requests from his military commanders to use chemical weapons against regime opponents in recent months, a German newspaper has reported , citing unidentified, high-level national security sources.
The intelligence findings were based on phone calls intercepted by a German surveillance ship operated by the BND, the German intelligence service, and deployed off the Syrian coast, Bild am Sonntag said. The intercepted communications suggested Assad, who is accused of war crimes by the west, including foreign secretary William Hague, was not himself involved in last month’s attack or in other instances when government forces have allegedly used chemical weapons.
Assad sought to exonerate himself from the August attack in which hundreds died. “There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people,” he said in an interview with CBS.
But the intercepts tended to add weight to the claims of the Obama administration and Britain and France that elements of the Assad regime, and not renegade rebel groups, were responsible for the attack in the suburb of Ghouta, Bild said.
President Barack Obama is urging the US Congress to approve military action to deter the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons and degrade its ability to pursue the two-and-a-half-year civil war against rebel forces.
But Obama is facing stiff resistance from Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives, who fear involvement in another Middle East war, and from Assad’s main ally, Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has said any military strikes conducted without prior UN approval would be illegal.
Speaking in Paris on Sunday during a European tour to rally support for military action, John Kerry, US secretary of state, said Washington did not rule out a return to the UN security council to seek backing for military strikes, once UN inspectors have completed an on-the-ground investigation of the 21 August attack. Their report is expected by the end of the week.