US said to be weighing military strike in Syria

The Obama administration is weighing a military response in Syria following allegations of a chemical weapons attack, The New York Times reports.

Senior officials from the State and Defense departments and the intelligence agencies met for three-and-a-half hours at the White House on Thursday to weigh everything from a retaliatory strike to a sustained air campaign, the Times reports. They left without having made a decision amid deep divisions on the wisdom of further intervening in the civil war that has been raging since March 2011.

Separately, the United Nations chief on Thursday called for “serious consequences” if the reports are true.

“I am especially troubled by reports that chemical weapons might have been used against civilian populations,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a meeting on the Millennium Development Goals in Seoul, South Korea. “Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law. Such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator.”

Syrian rebels say more than 1,000 people were killed when Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces hit five disputed areas around Damascus with poison gas on Wednesday. The Syrian government has denied the allegations.

President Obama is under intense political pressure to respond after warning Assad a year ago that using chemical weapons would be a “red line” that would prompt a U.S. response. The president reached that conclusion two months ago, but the administration's decision to send small arms to the rebels has been criticized as too little, too late.

The United States and three dozen over countries wrote to Ban on Wednesday demanding that U.N. inspectors already in Syria to probe previous suspected attacks be allowed to examine the site of the latest allegations. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday that the administration has so far been “unable to conclusively determine” whether poison gas was used but warned of potential consequences.

“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,” she 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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