“Regardless of whether this was a classic warfare agent like sarin, the Chemical Weapons Convention outlaws use of any toxic chemical for military purposes,” Smithson said.
Jean Pascal Zanders, an expert on chemical and biological weapons at the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris, said in a blog posting that the photographs appeared to confirm “exposure to toxin,” but not necessarily nerve gas. He added, “It is clear that something terrible has happened. These scenes could not have been stage-managed.”
There are unconfirmed reports that hundreds, including women and children, were killed by a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, Syria.
Nerve agents are the most deadly of the types of chemical weapons recognized by experts.
The Obama administration's strategy, not to mention domestic politics, point away from responding.
The recent deaths in Damascus are far from the first incident.
There's no death or blood, it's not graphic or violent. But it shows an important side of Syria we often miss.
Even the more-conservative opposition casualty estimates would make Wednesday’s attack the most extensive use of chemical weapons since 1988, when thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed in the Kurdish village of Halabja in an attack launched by President Saddam Hussein.
George Sabra, deputy head of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, reiterated calls for the international community to establish a no-fly zone over Syria, saying that not only is the Assad regime killing the Syrian people but “the weakness of the U.N. is killing us. The U.S. hesitation is killing us.”
Obama has steadily escalated U.S. aid to the opposition, although rebel fighters said that light arms and ammunition shipments that administration officials said were recently cleared for delivery have not arrived.
The administration remains divided over the wisdom of the more direct military support that the rebels and some U.S. lawmakers have demanded. In an Aug. 19 letter to Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) that was released Wednesday, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that more robust military assistance, including U.S. air assaults against Assad’s air force, could not ensure that U.S.-favored moderates in the fractured opposition would prevail.
In a surprisingly direct statement of his own policy recommendation, Dempsey wrote that “the best framework for an effective U.S. strategy . . . going forward” is more humanitarian aid and support for opposition moderates.
Lynch reported from the United Nations. Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.