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Reports: Syrian Regime Launches Chemical Weapons Overnight, Triggering Mass Casualties

Foreign policy and intelligence analysts are scrambling to untangle reports emerging overnight Wednesday from Syria, backed by photo and video evidence, that the Bashar al-Assad regime used chemical weapons to kill hundreds and maybe thousands of Syrian civilians in the East Ghouta region outside Damascus. Foreign Policy’s blog The Cable catalogs a spectrum of expert evaluations, from “no doubt it’s a chemical release of some variety… and a military release of some variety” to “there’s no smoking gun.” Analysis appears to be converging on a scenario that would have the regime launching four Grad 122mm rockets at the town after 2:00am, which were loaded with a chemical agent less powerful than pure sarin but intense enough to generate the mass casualties documented by multiple photos and videos. An expert in The New York Times analyzes the images:

Gwyn Winfield, editor of CBRNe World, a professional journal that covers nonconventional weapons, said the images suggested to him that either a large amount of a crowd control agent like tear gas was used in a confined space or a weakened form of a more powerful chemical agent was used.

The Washington Post describes the potential consequences if confirmed: 

The Obama administration searched for answers Wednesday about a reported chemical weapons attack in Syria that would mark the most flagrant violation yet of the U.S. “red line” for potential military action. But the possibility of intervention seemed ever smaller after America’s top general offered a starkly pessimistic assessment of options.

[Photo: Jean K / YouTube]