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Obama To Meet National Security Team To Discuss Syria

  • RFE/RL

Activists inspect the bodies of people they say were killed by nerve gas in the Ghouta region near Damascus on August 21.

Activists inspect the bodies of people they say were killed by nerve gas in the Ghouta region near Damascus on August 21.

The White House says President Barack Obama is meeting with his national security advisers to discuss possible next steps in Syria.

The meeting comes amid reports that the Syrian government has carried out a toxic-gas attack near Damascus on August 21.

A White House official said in a statement Washington had "a wide range of options available."

The official said Obama "has directed the intelligence community to gather facts and evidence" to determine whether the Syrian government forces used chemical weapons.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the United States had begun to prepare some naval forces and other assets in case a decision is made for U.S. military action in Syria.

Hagel said Obama had asked the Pentagon to prepare military options for Syria, and that some of these options "require positioning our forces."

Hagel declined to describe the movements of U.S. forces.

Hagel added the United States was still assessing whether Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in an attack that reportedly killed hundreds of civilians earlier this week.

Obama called the alleged gas attack "a big event of grave concern."

In a CNN interview broadcast on August 23, Obama said if the allegations proved true, the situation would "require America's attention."

Syrian opposition sources say between 500 and 1,300 people were killed in the attack.

The government in Damascus denies the allegation. Syrian state television on August 24 accused the rebels of using chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Jobar.

In related news, the United Nations disarmament chief arrived in Damascus on August 24 to press Syrian authorities to allow UN inspectors to probe the suspected chemical-weapons attack.

Angela Kane's visit comes after UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged the Syrian government and its opponents to cooperate in the UN efforts to establish an investigation into the alleged attack.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the UN experts "must very quickly be allowed to the site to carry out the necessary tests."

"All the information at our disposal converges to indicate that there was a chemical massacre in Syria near Damascus and to indicate that it is Bashar al-Assad's regime that is behind it," Fabius said.

Britain said it believed forces loyal to Syrian President Assad were responsible for the reported attack.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP