UK & World News
Syria: Phone Calls 'Prove' Regime Behind Attack
The US is certain an alleged poison gas attack in Syria was carried out by the regime of President Bashar al Assad after listening to intercepted telephone calls, according to reports.
US intelligence services overheard panicked conversations in which a Syrian defence official demanded an explanation for the attack from a leader of a chemical weapons unit, according to the Foreign Policy website.
The phone calls, as well as photo evidence and local accounts, are reportedly part of the portfolio of evidence the US is preparing before proceeding with a response - possibly a military strike - in the coming days.
But the intercept raises questions about the nature of last Wednesday's attack in the capital Damascus that is believed to have killed hundreds of people, including civilians.
If a Syrian defence official was questioning the chemical weapons unit about the assault, it raises the possibility that it was a rogue event.
Or was it cleared at the highest levels, without the say-so from mid-level defence officials?
"It's unclear where control lies," one US intelligence official told Foreign Policy.
"Is there just some sort of general blessing to use these things? Or are there explicit orders for each attack?"
The Syrian regime has denied carrying out the attack, saying it was actually the rebels who were behind it with the aim of portraying the Assad government in a bad light.
US officials are mulling what type of military strike in Syria might deter future chemical weapons attacks and are trying to assess how President Assad would respond, two officials said.
The Obama administration has insisted the Syrian government must be punished for its alleged use of toxic gas on civilians last week but said regime change was not on the agenda.
President Barack Obama has said he has not yet made a made a decision on Syria.
But US intelligence agencies are preparing a report laying out the evidence against Mr Assad's government on chemical weapons.
The classified version would be sent to key members of Congress, and a declassified version would be released publicly.
However, the White House says it was already convinced and was planning a possible military response and is seeking support from international partners including Britain and France.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the UK, US, China, France and Russia - have discussed a British draft resolution that would allow military action in Syria.
But the resolution has stalled due to Russian "intransigence," the US said.
Meanwhile, a UK parliament vote on Thursday will not authorise direct military involvement in Syria as the British government indicated there would be fresh efforts to achieve the UN resolution.
Any direct action by UK forces will require a further vote in the House of Commons once the UN has considered a report from weapons inspectors investigating the Damascus attack.
British Prime Minister David Cameron insists any use of force would only be a response to the use of banned chemical weapons and would be legal and proportionate.