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U.S. Lawmakers: America Must Confront Syria’s Use of Chemical Weapons

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Last week, the White House told lawmakers it believes the government of President Bashar al-Assad has used a small quantity of sarin gas, a chemical weapon, in Syria’s bloody civil war. The news prompted strong reaction from legislators that continued on Sunday, April 28. Speaking on the NBC television program Meet the Press, Republican Senator John McCain demanded prompt action.

“Arming the [Syrian] rebels, making sure that we help with the refugees, and be prepared with an international force to go in and secure these stocks of chemical and, perhaps, biological weapons. There are a number of caches of these chemical weapons. They cannot fall into the hands of the jihadists.”

McCain has also urged establishing a no-fly zone over Syria.

The White House says it wants the United Nations to confirm the U.S. belief that chemical weapons have been used, something President Obama has described as a “red line” that would trigger a U.S. response. Senator McCain says the administration’s posture has failed to stem bloodshed in Syria.

“The president drew red lines about chemical weapons, thereby giving a green light to Bashar Assad to do anything short of that, including [firing] Scud missiles and helicopter gunships, air strikes, mass-executions and atrocities on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time.”

The United States has provided non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. The Obama administration has resisted calls for direct U.S. military involvement in Syria, saying that President Assad’s rule will end one day regardless of any actions taken by the United States.

But even some of Obama’s Democratic allies in Congress say there is more the United States could do. Congressman Keith Ellison also appeared on Meet the Press.

“I believe the United States could play a greater role in dealing with the humanitarian crisis. I mean, we have spillage and refugees in Jordan in Lebanon, internally-displaced people in Syria. The suffering is intense, and I do not think the world’s greatest superpower, the United States, can stand by and not do anything.”

Republican Congressman Peter King said, having set down a red line in Syria, “something is going to have to be done” once that line is crossed. Neither he nor the Obama administration have specified any actions to be taken.

Meanwhile, the UPI news service indicated that the Israeli newspaper Maariv published a report saying that the Free Syrian Army claims that Israeli air force jets flew over President Bashar Assad’s palace and bombed a chemical weapons site near Damascus.

According to the report, Israeli jets entered Syrian airspace close to 6 a.m on Saturday, April 27, and flew over Assad’s palace in Damascus and other security facilities before striking a chemical weapons compound near the city.

The report also stated that a Syrian army air defense battery positioned in the city fired at the Israeli jets, but the aircraft left Syrian airspace unscathed. FSA rebels posted a video showing smoke rising from the headquarters for chemical weapons.

There were no reports of the extent of damage or casualties. Neither Damascus nor Jerusalem responded to the report.

In January, foreign media reported Israeli jets bombed a weapons convoy parked outside a military research institute near Damascus allegedly en route to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said it documented 88 deaths due to violence across Syria on Sunday, including 12 children, eight women, five torture victims and 35 armed rebels.

The organization said 23 of the deaths occurred in Aleppo, 16 in and around Damascus, 13 in Idlib, 12 in Hama, 10 in Homs and nine in Daraa.

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