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Obama meets with NSC, reviews 'options' on Syria

  |   Aug. 24, 2013 at 7:22 PM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama Saturday reviewed "potential options" for a U.S. and international response to use of chemical weapons in Syria, the White House said.

The president was presented with the list of options during a meeting of the National Security Council in Washington, as Syrian state media reported government troops have found "chemical agents" in tunnels in Jobar, a rebel stronghold near Damascus.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency reported an undetermined number of soldiers experienced "suffocation," with some hospitalized in critical condition, the Los Angeles Times said.

The Syrian report did not provide details on how the soldiers were exposed to the reported chemical agents.

In a statement, the White House said Obama convened the National Security Council meeting to review what the U.S. intelligence community has been able to confirm about the reported use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government Wednesday.

"The President also received a detailed review of a range of potential options he had requested be prepared for the United States and the international community to respond to the use of chemical weapons," the statement said.

Citing an official source it did not identify, The Hill reported Obama will "act very deliberately" as the United States investigates the allegations.

"Once we ascertain the facts, the president will make an informed decision about how to respond ... and we are going to act very deliberately," the official said after the NSC meeting.

The meeting came one day after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters Obama has asked commanders to prepare military options for Syria, with U.S. Navy ships slowly moving toward the Syrian coast.

The Pentagon is planning an attack on Syrian government forces with cruise missiles, and is waiting on Obama's approval to strike, CBS News reported.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was expected to present options for such a strike during Saturday's meeting at the White House, CBS reported.

The potential U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict comes after a report this week more than 1,000 men, women and children died in what is believed to be a chemical weapons attack by the forces of President Bashar Assad.

The attack also s under investigation by the United Nations and others.

Speaking aboard a military plane destined for Malaysia, Hagel said the Pentagon was "still assessing" the "specific option" of military force.

"If, in fact, this was a deliberate use and attack by the Syrian government on its own people using chemical weapons, there may be another attack coming," he said. "A very quick assessment [by the international community] of what happened and whatever appropriate response should be made."

The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders said three hospitals in the Damascus area had reported receiving about 3,600 patients early Wednesday "displaying neurotoxic symptoms," including convulsions, blurred vision and respiratory distress, the Los Angeles Times reported. Of those patients, 365 were reported to have died, the group said.

Doctors Without Borders cautioned that it could "neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack." But the circumstances "strongly indicate" exposure to a "neurotoxic agent," the group said in a press release.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said 104 people, 20 of them children, were killed in violence across Syria Saturday. The organization said 29 were killed in and around Damascus, 27 in Aleppo and 18 in Idlib.

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