A split between Britain and France on the one side and the United States on the other regarding sending military aid to opposition forces in Syria may be widening due to a report Britain and France gave to the United Nations claiming Syria’s government has used chemical weapons in its fight against rebel forces.
The report claims that Bashar al-Assad’s government used chemical weapons more than once since last December around the cities of Aleppo, Homs, and possibly Damascus, with the alleged proof found in soil samples. The evidence flies in the face of Assad’s government claiming that it was the opposition forces who used the chemical weapons in Khan al-Asal, near Aleppo, on March 19.
Twenty-six people were killed in that incident. European diplomats agree that chemical weapons were used, but they assert that the weapons were from “friendly fire” used by the Assad regime.
Britain and France favor sending weapons to the rebels, but the U.S. is concerned that the internecine fighting among rebel forces would leave the weapons in the hands of al Qaeda. Because Barack Obama has called the use of chemical weapons a “game-changer,” Assad’s use of the weapons might force Obama to join Britain and France in sending military aid to the rebels.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said, “We continue to weigh the risk that any weapons we might contribute that would make a real difference could wind up in the hands of extremists — and come back to hurt us and our partners in the region. Other countries are making their own decisions.”
But Alistair Burt, a senior British Foreign Office official, disagreed about refusing arms to the rebels, saying, “We want to send a message to the [Assad] regime that bad things are certain to come.”
Assad is using the division among the rebels to unify Syrians frightened of an al Qaeda takeover. “We have no choice but victory,” he said. “If we don’t win, Syria will be finished, and I don’t think this is a choice for any citizen in Syria.”