DAMASCUS, Syria — Fears of a possible U.S. strike against Syria’s regime over an alleged chemical weapons attack rippled across the region yesterday, as about 6,000 Syrians fled to neighboring Lebanon in a 24-hour period and Israelis scrambled for gas masks in case Damascus retaliates against them.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon pleaded for more time for diplomacy and to allow U.N. investigators to complete their work. The experts, wearing flak jackets and helmets, collected blood and urine samples from victims during a visit to at least one of the areas hit in last week’s attack.
Seven days after chemical weapons were purportedly unleashed on rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital, momentum grew toward Western military action against President Bashar Assad’s regime. At the same time, Syria’s chief allies, Russia and Iran, warned of dire consequences for the region if any armed intervention is undertaken.
U.S. leaders, including Vice President Joe Biden, have charged that Assad’s government was behind the Aug. 21 attack that Doctors Without Borders says killed at least 355 people. The White House says it’s planning a possible military response while seeking support from international partners.
The U.S. has not presented concrete proof of Syrian regime involvement in the attack, and U.N. inspectors have not endorsed the allegations, although the U.N. envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said evidence suggests some kind of “substance” was used that killed hundreds.
Two senior Obama administration officials said U.S. intelligence agencies are drawing up a report laying out the evidence against Assad’s government. The classified version would be sent to key members of Congress, and a declassified version would be made public.
One of the officials said the administration is considering more than a single set of military strikes and “the options are not limited just to one day” of assault.