Obama eyes op­tions for Syria

Symp­toms point to ‘ neu­ro­toxic agent’

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - ONCE OVER -

WASH­ING­TON — U. S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama met with his national se­cu­rity team Satur­day to dis­cuss po­ten­tial mil­i­tary op­tions in Syria, as an in­ter­na­tional re­lief group said Syr­ian hos­pi­tals re­port­edly treated 3,600 pa­tients dis­play­ing symp­toms of chem­i­cal weapons ex­po­sure af­ter an at­tack that killed scores of civil­ians.

Obama con­vened the Satur­day sum­mit at the White House amid pres­sure for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­spond to the at­tack in Syria, which, if con­firmed, would be Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s most fla­grant vi­o­la­tion yet of Obama’s “red line” warn­ing against the use of chem­i­cal war­fare.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Chuck Hagel told re­porters Satur­day that Obama had asked the De­fense Depart­ment for “op­tions” in a sit­u­a­tion that Obama de­scribed Fri­day as a “big event of grave con­cern.” Obama also sought back­ing from a key U. S. ally, speak­ing Satur­day with Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron and agree­ing to con­sult on “pos­si­ble re­sponses by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to the use of chem­i­cal weapons.” Cameron is­sued a stern warn­ing, too, on the lethal con­se­quences.

A White House of­fi­cial said Satur­day that Obama had di­rected U. S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies to pull to­gether facts and ev­i­dence to de­ter­mine what hap­pened and “once we as­cer­tain the facts, the pres­i­dent will make an in­formed de­ci­sion about how to re­spond.”

The of­fi­cial said the U. S. has a “range of op­tions avail­able” and Obama would “act very de­lib­er­ately so that we’re mak­ing de­ci­sions con­sis­tent with our national in­ter­est as well as our as­sess­ment of what can ad­vance our ob­jec­tives in Syria.”

The Syr­ian regime, which has de­nied the use of chem­i­cal weapons and sought to put the blame on the op­po­si­tion, re­port­edly will al­low UN in­spec­tors to visit the site of last week’s at­tack.

Press TV, Iran’s state- run satel­lite news chan­nel, quoted Iran’s for­eign min­is­ter as say­ing he had spo­ken with his Syr­ian coun­ter­part, who told him the govern­ment would co- op­er­ate with a UN team in the coun­try. Syria’s in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter warned a U. S. strike would back­fire, telling Le­banon- based Al- Mayadeen TV the “reper­cus­sion would be a ball of fire that would burn not only Syria but the whole Mid­dle East,” the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders said Satur­day that three hos­pi­tals in Syria it sup­ports are re­port­ing they re­ceived ap­prox­i­mately 3,600 pa­tients dis- play­ing symp­toms of ex­po­sure to toxic chem­i­cals the day of the at­tack last week in eastern Da­m­as­cus. Of those pa­tients, 355 re­port­edly died.

Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders has not been able to ac­cess the fa­cil­i­ties due to “sig­nif­i­cant se­cu­rity risks,” the in­ter­na­tional med­i­cal group said, adding it has a “strong and re­li­able col­lab­o­ra­tion” with med­i­cal net­works and hos­pi­tals in the area.

Med­i­cal staff work­ing in the Syr­ian fa­cil­i­ties pro­vided de­tailed in­for­ma­tion to the group’s doc­tors re­gard­ing “large num­bers of pa­tients ar­riv­ing with symp­toms in­clud­ing con­vul­sions, ex­cess saliva, pin­point pupils, blurred vi­sion and res­pi­ra­tory dis­tress,” said Dr. Bart Janssens, Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders’ di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions.

Pa­tients were treated us­ing at­ropine, a drug used to treat neu­ro­toxic symp­toms, which the aid group said it’s now try­ing to re­plen­ish.

Janssens said his group “can nei­ther sci­en­tif­i­cally con­firm the cause of th­ese symp­toms nor es­tab­lish who is re­spon­si­ble for the at­tack.” But he added, “the re­ported symp­toms of the pa­tients, in ad­di­tion to the epi­demi­o­log­i­cal pat­tern of the events — char­ac­ter­ized by the mas­sive in­flux of pa­tients in a short pe­riod of time, the ori­gin of the pa­tients, and the con­tam­i­na­tion of med­i­cal and first aid work­ers — strongly in­di­cate mass ex­po­sure to a neu­ro­toxic agent.”

— MCT In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

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