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Israelis assert Syria has used chemical arms

TEL AVIV -- A senior Israeli military intelligence official said on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons last month in his battle against insurgent groups. It was the first time that Israel has accused the embattled Syrian leader of using his stockpile of nonconventional weapons.

Israel's assessment, based on visual evidence of alleged attacks, could raise pressure on the United States and other Western countries to intervene in the Syrian conflict. Britain and France recently announced that they also had evidence that Assad's government had used chemical weapons.

Although the United States says it has not been able to verify these claims, President Barack Obama has warned that the introduction of chemical weapons by Assad would be a "game changer."

Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, the head of research and analysis in Israeli military intelligence, told a security conference in Tel Aviv that Assad has used chemical weapons several times. Among the incidents were attacks documented by the French and British near Damascus last month. He cited images of people hurt in the alleged attacks. But he gave no indication of other evidence, such as soil samples, typically used to verify chemical weapons use.

"To the best of our professional understanding, the regime used lethal chemical weapons against the militants in a series of incidents over the past months, including the relatively famous incident of March 19," Brun said. "Shrunken pupils, foaming at the mouth and other signs indicate, in our view, that lethal chemical weapons were used."

He said sarin was probably used. He also said the Syrian regime was using less lethal chemical weapons, and that Russia has continued to arm the Syrian military with weapons such as advanced SA-17 air defense missiles.

"The fact that chemical weapons were used without an appropriate response is a very disturbing development because it could signal that such a thing is legitimate," he said. "I think we need to be very worried that chemical weapons will reach elements that are less responsible."

Reacting to Brun's comments, Pentagon spokesman George Little said the United States "continues to assess reports of chemical weapons use in Syria."

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