Testimony of victims of the "toxic gas" incident in Homs on 23 December
On 24 December, EA's James Miller examined claims that Syrian forces used a "toxic gas" in Homs, after videos appeared to show men with acute respiratory symptoms following shellings in the area. He wrote:
It is possible that a new weapon has been used in Homs. However, it's also possible that these people were unfortunate in breathing the by-products of a weapon that has already been seen.
So the question remains: what was the weapon that caused such damage in this case?
Three weeks, a secret US State Department cable has emerged which purports to give an answer. An official summarises, "We can't definitely say 100 percent, but Syrian contacts made a compelling case that [a poison gas called] Agent 15 was used in Homs on Dec. 23."
Josh Rogin writes for The Cable blog of Foreign Policy magazine:
A secret State Department cable has concluded that the Syrian military likely used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly attack last month....
United States diplomats in Turkey conducted a previously undisclosed, intensive investigation into claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, and made what an Obama administration official who reviewed the cable called a "compelling case" that Assad's military forces had used a deadly form of poison gas.
The cable, signed by the U.S. consul general in Istanbul, Scott Frederic Kilner, and sent to State Department headquarters in Washington last week, outlined the results of the consulate's investigation into reports from inside Syria that chemical weapons had been used in the city of Homs on Dec. 23.
The consul general's report followed a series of interviews with activists, doctors, and defectors, in what the administration official said was one of the most comprehensive efforts the U.S. government has made to investigate claims by internal Syrian sources. The investigation included a meeting between the consulate staff and Mustafa al-Sheikh, a high-level defector who once was a major general in Assad's army and key official in the Syrian military's WMD program.
An Obama administration official who reviewed the document, which was classified at the "secret" level, detailed its contents to The Cable. "We can't definitely say 100 percent, but Syrian contacts made a compelling case that Agent 15 was used in Homs on Dec. 23," the official said.
The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would cross the "red line" President Barack Obama first established in an Aug. 20 statement. "We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation," Obama said.
To date, the administration has not initiated any major policy changes in response to the classified cable, but a Deputies Committee meeting of top administration officials is scheduled for this week.