Washington: Bashar al-Assad`s regime in Syria used chemical weapons on a massive scale in rebel-held areas near Damascus that killed as many as 1,429 people including 426 children, US Secretary of State John Kerry said today as US released intelligence assessment on the alleged atrocity.
"The United States government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children. Even the first-responders, the doctors, nurses and medics who tried to save them, they became victims themselves. We saw them gasping for air, terrified that their own lives were in danger," Kerry told reporters.
He was speaking soon after the White House released a report on its intelligence assessment of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime during the August 21 attack.
"This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons. This is what Assad did to his own people," Kerry said.
"We know that the Assad regime has the largest chemical weapons programs in the entire Middle East. We know that the regime has used those weapons multiple times this year, and has used them on a smaller scale but still it has used them against its own people, including not very far from where last Wednesday`s attack happened," Kerry said.
"We know that the regime was specifically determined to rid the Damascus suburbs of the opposition, and it was frustrated that it hadn`t succeeded in doing so. We know that for three days before the attack, the Syrian regime`s chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area, making preparations," he said.
"We know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons with specific instructions. We know where the rockets were launched from, and at what time. We know where they landed, and when. We know rockets came only from regime-held areas and went only to rebel or contested neighbourhoods," he said.
"And we know, as does the world, that just 90 minutes later all hell broke loose in the social media. With our own eyes we have seen the thousands of reports from 11 separate sites in the Damascus suburbs," he said.
"All of them show and report victims with breathing difficulties, people twitching with spasms, coughing, rapid heartbeats, foaming at the mouth, unconsciousness, and death. And we know it was ordinary Syrian citizens who reported all of these horrors," Kerry said.
"Just as important, we know what the doctors and the nurses who treated them didn`t report -- not a scratch, not a shrapnel wound, not a cut, not a gunshot sound. We saw rows of dead lined up in burial shrouds, the white linen unstained by a single drop of blood," he said.
"Instead of being tucked safely in their beds at home, we saw rows of children lying side by side, sprawled on a hospital floor, all of them dead from Assad`s gas and surrounded by parents and grandparents who had suffered the same fate," he said.
"I`m not asking you to take my word for it. Read for
yourself, everyone, those listening, all of you, read for yourselves the evidence from thousands of sources, evidence that is already publicly available," he said.
"And read for yourselves the verdict, reached by our intelligence community about the chemical weapons attack the Assad regime inflicted on the opposition and on opposition controlled or contested neighbourhoods in the Damascus suburbs on the early morning of August 21," he said.
"Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack. And I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment. We have taken unprecedented steps to declassify and make facts available to people who can judge for themselves," he said.
According to the four-page unclassified version of the report, ?a large body of independent sources indicates that a chemical weapons attack took place in the Damascus suburbs on August 21.
"We assess with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs on August 21. We assess that the scenario in which the opposition executed the attack on August 21 is highly unlikely," the report said.
Asserting that the Syrian regime maintains a stockpile of numerous chemical agents, including mustard, sarin, and VX and has thousands of munitions that can be used to deliver chemical warfare agents, the report said the Syrian President Bashar al-Asad is the ultimate decision maker for the chemical weapons programme and members of the programme are carefully vetted to ensure security and loyalty.
"The Syrian regime has the types of munitions that we assess were used to carry out the attack on August 21, and has the ability to strike simultaneously in multiple locations. We have seen no indication that the opposition has carried out a large-scale, coordinated rocket and artillery attack like the one that occurred on August 21," the report says.
"On August 21, a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilisation of gas masks. Our intelligence sources in the Damascus area did not detect any indications in the days prior to the attack that opposition affiliates were planning to use chemical weapons," the report said.
Multiple streams of intelligence indicate that the regime executed a rocket and artillery attack against the Damascus suburbs in the early hours of August 21.
Satellite detections corroborate that attacks from a regime-controlled area struck neighbourhoods where the chemical attacks reportedly occurred.
The United States, it said, has a body of information, including past Syrian practice, that leads it to conclude that regime officials were witting of and directed the attack on August 21.
"We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the UN inspectors obtaining evidence," the report said.