President Barack Obama said he doesn’t foresee circumstances that would require putting U.S. troops on the ground in Syria, where rebels are trying to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Obama said yesterday he wouldn’t completely rule out any option. Still, he said that sending American forces into Syria probably wouldn’t be in the U.S. interest, nor in Syria’s. Other leaders in the Middle East “agree with that assessment,” he said at a news conference with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla in the capital of San Jose.
The administration has been debating ways to increase pressure on Assad after disclosing last week that U.S. intelligence agencies found “with varying degrees of confidence” that small amounts of sarin nerve gas were used in Syria. Obama and his national security advisers have resisted calls to arm the opposition in Syria, in part because some of the more effective militant factions have ties to al-Qaeda.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said May 2 that sending lethal aid to rebel forces is one of the options under consideration.
More than 70,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, according to United Nations estimates. Most Americans reject the notion that the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the conflict, with 62 percent opposing intervention, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll taken April 24-28.
Obama reiterated yesterday that the U.S. needs more evidence before it acts. Any “systematic use” of chemical weapons by the regime would be detected, he said.
“We will stay on this,” Obama said.
CNN, citing two unidentified U.S. officials, reported that Israel conducted an airstrike on Syria either May 2 or yesterday. It said 16 Israeli fighter jets entered Lebanese airspace and that there’s no reason to believe that they were targeting a chemical weapons storage facility inside Syria.
An unidentified U.S. official told the Associated Press that the site targeted by Israel appeared to have been a warehouse. Pentagon and White House officials declined yesterday to comment on the CNN report.
Aaron Sagui, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, wouldn’t confirm that an airstrike took place.
“We cannot comment on these reports, but what we can say is that Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, specially to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Sagui said.
Iran has pressed Hezbollah fighters to join the civil war in Syria to bolster Assad’s armed struggle, according to Sobhi al-Tofaili, a disaffected former leader of the Lebanese militant group. Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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