US weighs possible military options in Syria

Islamic State (IS) militants have captured a huge swathe of territory after launching their offensive across Iraq and Syria in June 2014 (AFP Photo/)
US Defense Secretary Hagel says Obama asks for "military options" in response to alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad; US naval power in Mediterranean gives president option to fire Tomahawk missiles at Syrian targets. 
Chuck Hagel told reporters traveling to Malaysia with him Friday Obama has asked the Defense Department for a range of options if he chooses to launch an attack on the Damascus government.
Hagel\’s comments came after a defense official said the Navy would expand its presence in the Mediterranean with a fourth warship armed with cruise missiles.
Earlier, US defence officials said a fourth US warship – armed with cruise missiles – had been moved into the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The officials stressed that the US Navy had received no orders to prepare for military action.
Russia and China are joining international calls for an investigation into an alleged poison gas attack in a suburb of Syria\’s capital, as President Obama said the reported incident is of "grave concern."
Syria\’s main ally Russia said there was evidence rebels were behind the attack.
Russia\’s Foreign Ministry Friday said claims by Syria\’s opposition that hundreds died in a poisonous gas attack several days ago should undergo an objective investigation, and it called on Syria to cooperate.
Moscow also called on rebel forces to guarantee safe passage for U.N. investigators who are already in the country looking into previous allegations of chemical use. The ministry released the statement following a call between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The United States has been pushing for a U.N.-led investigation. Obama told CNN that officials are still gathering information but called the reported attack a matter of "grave concern."
The president said, "We\’re still gathering information about this particular event, but it is very troublesome."
But Obama also told CNN the idea that the U.S. can just go in and solve the problems in Syria is "overstated."
He said, "We have to think through strategically what\’s going to be in our long-term national interests."
Last year, President Obama said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line" and force a tough US response.
China\’s Foreign Ministry Friday also backed calls for a U.N. investigation, with a spokesman telling the state-run Xinhua news agency that China "resolutely opposes" the use of chemical weapons no matter which side is responsible.
Syrian opposition leaders and activists have released video of scores of adults and children lying dead on the ground without signs of injury. Neither the number of people killed nor the cause of death could be independently confirmed.
On Friday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague called a chemical weapon attack "the only possible explanation" and placed the blame on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"I know some people in the world would like to say that this is some kind of conspiracy brought about by the opposition in Syria, I think the chances of that are vanishingly small," said Hague." And so we do believe this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime on a large scale, but we would like the United Nations to be able to assess that, so for those who don\’t believe that, for those who doubt that, the evidence can be gathered, but that is certainly our opinion."
The Syrian opposition, however, has said hundreds died in a government assault on the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday.
Despite backing calls for an immediate investigation, Russia is not convinced the government is responsible.
Meanwhile, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said Moscow had urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to co-operate with UN inspectors, but also that questions remained about the willingness of the opposition to provide "secure, safe access of the [UN] mission to the location of the incident".
"More new evidence is starting to emerge that this criminal act was clearly provocative," the ministry added.
The United Nations has formally asked Syria to let U.N. personnel "swiftly investigate" the scene. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would amount to a "crime against humanity" that would result in "serious consequences."
Assad\’s government has consistently denied using chemical weapons. It has accused the opposition of using chemical weapons earlier this year near Aleppo. The U.N. team already on the ground in Syria was sent to investigate those claims.
Syria has been embroiled in a war for more than two years, during which more than 100,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced or become refugees in other countries, according to the United Nations.
Source: Agencies
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