Thursday, 22 August 2013

Israel says world paying 'lip service' to alleged Syria gas attacks

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A survivor from what activists say is a gas attack rests inside a mosque in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus August 21, 2013. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
JERUSALEM | Thu Aug 22, 2013 8:20am EDT
(Reuters) - Israel said on Thursday it believed Syrian forces had used chemical weapons in the killing of hundreds of people in the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, and it accused the world of turning a blind eye to such attacks.
"The world condemns, the world investigates, the world pays lip service," Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Israel Radio.
"Nothing tangible or significant has been done in the past two years to halt (President Bashar al-) Assad's incessant massacre of his citizens," he said.
Opposition activists have accused Assad's forces of gassing hundreds, including women and children, in Wednesday's attack, allegations which government officials deny.
Echoing remarks made by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Wednesday, Steinitz said that according to "Israeli intelligence assessments", chemical weapons had been used in the rebel-held eastern Damascus suburbs, and "not for the first time" in Syria's civil war. He did not provide further details.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday the international community needed to respond with force if the allegations of a Syrian government chemical attack proved true, although there was no question of sending troops on the ground.
Israeli leaders, while pointing a finger at Assad's forces over alleged chemical attacks, have stopped short of urging Western military intervention in the Syrian conflict.
Israel has on several occasions taken action of its own, firing into Syria after mortar bombs and shells from battles near the frontier struck inside the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Israel captured the Golan from Syria in a 1967 war.
For Israel, the conflict in its northern neighbor is a battle between two evils: Assad - who is allied with two of its most strident foes, Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas - and Islamic jihadists fighting with rebels to oust him.
In his remarks, Steinitz focused on the Iranian part of the equation, saying Western sanctions already in place over Tehran's suspected quest for atomic weapons should be strengthened with punitive steps over its support for Assad.
Iran denies that it is seeking nuclear arms and says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes.
"If Assad is using chemical weapons and massacring his people, Iran is responsible because Assad is today a total offshoot of Iran. Without Iranian support he would not manage to hold on," Steinitz said, citing arms supplies and funding.
Yisrael Katz, Israel's transportation minister, said the alleged horror of gas attacks on Syrians resonated strongly in the Jewish state, founded after the Nazi Holocaust in which many of the six million Jewish dead were killed in gas chambers.
Israel has long conducted a national gas mask distribution program for the civilian population. It has accused Syria of stockpiling chemical weapons and voiced concern they could be transferred to Hezbollah or other hostile groups.
"Today he (Assad) is murdering his own people, tomorrow he will threaten us and perhaps worse," Katz told Israel Radio.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis; Editing by Pravin Char)