State Dept. 'unable' to determine if Syria used chemical weapons in recent attack

The Obama administration said Thursday it was “unable to conclusively determine” whether chemical weapons were used in an attack on civilians last week in Syria and pressed for a United Nations probe.

“The president has directed the intel community here in the United States to urgently gather additional information. That is our focus on this end,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. 

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“At this time, right now, we are unable to conclusively determine [chemical weapons] 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,” she added.

Psaki demanded that Syrian President Bashar Assad's government allow U.N. investigators already in the country to visit the site of the latest reported attack.

The Syrian opposition says more than 1,000 people were killed in five attacks on the outskirts of Damascus, alleging that Assad’s forces used rockets with chemical weapons.

Psaki said the administration is weighing further steps if the reports are true. 

The White House announced two months ago that it would be arming rebel forces seeking Assad’s ouster after concluding the Syrian strongman had used poison gas previously. But some lawmakers are demanding greater involvement, such as enforcing a no-fly zone over areas occupied by the opposition.

“If these reports are true, it would be an outrageous and flagrant escalation of the use of chemical weapons by the regime, so our focus is on nailing down the facts,” Psaki said. “The president, of course, has a range of options that we've talked about before that he can certainly consider and, of course, discuss with his national security team.”

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