Arab leaders blame Syria for using chemical weapons


McClatchy Foreign Staff

With a U.S. military strike potentially imminent, Arab leaders on Tuesday provided a qualified endorsement should President Barack Obama decide to retaliate against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people.

Pushed by the Gulf states, the 22-member Arab League, after a two-hour session, issued a strongly worded five-point statement holding Syria “fully responsible for the ugly crime" and demanding "that all the perpetrators of this heinous crime be presented for international trials.”

Without directly blaming the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Arab League Secretary General Nabil el Araby said that what happened was a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”

The league also said the United Nations Security Council should put aside its differences and pass the “necessary resolutions against the perpetrators of this crime.”

Meanwhile, a U.S. defense official, who declined to be identified so he could speak about Syria, told McClatchy that he believes the strike could happen within a week. He said it would be carried out exclusively by the four U.S. destroyers currently based in the eastern Mediterranean and would not include air strikes to supplement the destroyer missile strikes.

The Defense official said that targets would be hit over several days in an effort to send a message to the Assad regime that the international community would not tolerate chemical weapons attacks.

“We are ready to go,” the official said. “We are just waiting for the order."

There was no discussion at the Arab League about the potential U.S. strike, though the tone of the statement suggested that the possibility of one drove its tough rhetoric.

While traveling in Ramallah, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy condemned a possible attack on Syria and said there should be a political solution instead. Fahmy did not outline what such a solution should look like.

At one time, Egypt could have brokered such a move, but the nation has faced unprecedented strife in the last two months that has included the military ouster of its first democratically elected president and the deaths of more than 1,100 people in clashes over just four days.

That the Arab world cannot address its own problems frustrated some in Cairo, who said they fear a U.S. strike would lead to more instability in this already fragile part of the world.

“We are talking about Syria now, after a million people have suffered?” asked taxi driver Mohammed Moussa, 61. “Bombing is not the solution. It will only lead to more destruction.”

He also said, “The Arab League is supposed to address the problems of the Arab world. But they are weak. They do nothing.”

Still others questioned why Assad would deploy such weapons, knowing that Obama had called it a “red line” for the United States. But with such turmoil engulfing their own country in recent days, many Egyptians conceded they did not know what to believe had happened in Syria.

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