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U.S. weighs claim of chemical weapons

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 7:36 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday expressed caution about new claims by Israel that Syria's government has used chemical weapons against rebels.

U.S. officials said they are evaluating whether President Bashar Assad's regime has employed chemical weapons — a step that President Obama has said could trigger direct U.S. involvement in the civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people.

“We support an investigation. We are monitoring this,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “We have not come to the conclusion that there has been that use. But it is something that is of great concern to us, to our partners and obviously unacceptable, as the president made clear.”

Two senior Israeli military officials asserted that forces loyal to Assad deployed chemical weapons in several incidents that killed dozens of rebel fighters and civilians.

The officials told reporters in Israel that their evidence — including photographs showing victims foaming at the mouth — made them “nearly 100 percent” certain.

“To the best of our professional understanding, the regime used lethal chemical weapons against gunmen in a series of incidents in recent months,” said Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, chief of the research division of Israel's army intelligence.

A second senior Israeli military officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said chemical weapons appear to have been used in five cases.

He said “dozens” were killed in the attacks when a “sarin-type” chemical was dispersed.

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