By Carlo Muñoz - 08/24/13 05:36 PM EDT
The Obama White House is vowing to "act very deliberately" in response to recent claims of chemical weapons attacks against Syrian rebel forces.
During a meeting of the administration's national security team at the White House on Saturday, the president ordered the agencies to begin to gather "facts and evidence so that we can determine what occurred in Syria."
"Once we ascertain the facts, the president will make an informed decision about how to respond ... and we are going to act very deliberately," the official said on Saturday, shortly after the White House meeting.
The official's comments come one day after Defense Secretary Chuck HagelChuck HagelThere's still time for another third-party option Hagel says NATO deployment could spark a new Cold War with Russia Overnight Defense: House panel unveils 5B defense spending bill MORE told reporters that Obama has asked commanders to prepare military options for Syria.
U.S. naval warships are slowly making their way toward the Syrian coast, as the White House continues to debate whether to take military action in the country.
The administration official did not comment on the naval movements specifically but noted Obama's national security team has "a range of options available" to address the Syrian threat.
Hagel's announcement and Saturday's meeting represent a break from the administration's strategy of economic and diplomatic sanctions to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad and end the civil war there.
But reports of a chemical weapons strike near Damascus have forced the White House to change its calculations.
On Thursday, rebel leaders in Syria accused Assad's forces of launching chemical weapon attacks against anti-government forces in and around the capital city of Damascus.
President Obama has said Assad's forces would be crossing a "red line" if it used chemical weapons and trigger a U.S. military response.
On Saturday, the Assad regime claimed government troops were hit with chemical weapons as they tried to push out rebel fighters from positions around Damascus.
State media outlets broadcast images of plastic jugs, gas masks and explosives captured from rebel-controlled areas after the government offensive as proof of the attacks.
Those news outlets, however, did not show images of the attacks themselves or of Assad troops suffering the after effects of a chemical strike, according recent reports.
A team of inspectors has been dispatched by the United Nations to investigate the rebels' claims. On Friday, rebel leaders guaranteed safe passage for the U.N. team into Syria.