Syrian Update: US Puts Forces Closer, Weighs Response; Syria, Iran Weigh In

This image provided by by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show several bodies being buried in a suburb of Damascus, Syria during a funeral on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. Syrian government forces pressed their offensive in eastern Damascus on Thursday, bombing rebel-held suburbs where the opposition said the regime had killed more than 100 people the day before in a chemical weapons attack. The government has denied allegations it used chemical weapons in artillery barrages on the area known as eastern Ghouta on Wednesday as "absolutely baseless." (AP Photo/Shaam News Network)
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. intelligence officials are still trying to determine whether Syria's government unleashed a deadly chemical weapons attack on its people. At the same time, the Obama administration is preparing for a possible military response by moving naval forces closer to Syria.
President Barack Obama met with his national security team on Saturday. The White House says Obama received a detailed review of the range of options he requested for the U.S. and its international partners to respond if the fact-finding process concludes that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime engaged in chemical warfare.
Obama also discussed the situation in Syria by telephone with British Prime Minister David Cameron. The White House says the two leaders expressed "grave concern" about the reported chemical weapons use, which both of their countries oppose.
The Syrian government denies the claims. It also is warning the U.S. against taking military action, saying such a step would set the Middle East ablaze.
To underscore the regional concern about spillover effects of the Syrian conflict, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is attending a meeting starting Sunday in Jordan with Mideast defense chiefs.

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- The Syrian government is accusing rebels of using chemical weapons and is warning the United States not to launch any military action against Damascus over an alleged chemical attack last week, saying such a move would set the Middle East ablaze.
The regime of President Bashar Assad made the accusations against opposition forces at the same time an international aid group says it has tallied 355 deaths from a purported chemical weapons attack on Wednesday in a suburb of the Syrian capital.
Meanwhile, U.S. naval units are moving closer to Syria as President Barack Obama considers a possible military response.
U.S. defense officials say the Navy had sent a fourth warship armed with ballistic missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea but without immediate orders for any missile launch into Syria. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss ship movements publicly.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the Obama administration is still weighing the question of whether to use military force in Syria in response to a purported chemical weapons attack.
Speaking to reporters Sunday in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, Hagel declined to say what action the U.S. might take.
He said the administration is weighing many factors. These include an intelligence assessment of the attack in Syria, as well as what he called legal issues and the matter of international support for any military response.
Hagel is in Malaysia to start a long-planned one-week Asia tour, even as he remains in contact with Washington about unfolding events in Syria.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's new president has condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria's civil war without blaming a side for it.
The comments by President Hasan Rouhani on Saturday, broadcast by Iranian state television, come as his government is a major backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
It also follows comments Wednesday by Iran's foreign minister, who blamed Syrian rebels for the use of chemical weapons.
In his speech at the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Rouhani spoke about how Iran previously was the victim of chemical warfare during its 1980s war with Iraq. The president said the death of innocent people through the use of chemical weapons was "very distressing."
Rouhani did not elaborate on what his government knew about the chemical weapons use in Syria.

PARIS (AP) -- Doctors Without Borders says some 355 people who showed "neurotoxic symptoms" died following the suspected chemical weapons attack this week near Syria's capital.
The Paris-based humanitarian aid group said Saturday that three hospitals it supports in the Damascus region reported receiving roughly 3,600 patients who showed such symptoms over less than three hours on Wednesday morning.
A debate has ensued about who was behind the alleged gas attack on rebel-held Damascus suburbs that activists previously said killed more than 130 people. The attack has spurred demands for an independent investigation and renewed talk of potential international military action, if chemical weapons were indeed used.
Anti-government activists accuse the Syrian government of carrying out the toxic gas attack on the eastern suburbs of Damascus and have reported death tolls ranging from 136 to 1,300.

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- The United Nations disarmament chief has arrived in Damascus to press the Syrian government to allow U.N. experts to investigate an alleged chemical weapons attack this week.
Angela Kane did not speak to reporters upon her arrival on Saturday in the Syrian capital.
Anti-government activists accuse President Bashar Assad's regime of carrying out a toxic gas attack Wednesday on the eastern suburbs of Damascus and have reported death tolls ranging from 136 to 1,300.
The government calls the claims "absolutely baseless."
The U.S., Britain, France and Russia have all urged the Assad regime and the rebels fighting to overthrow him to cooperate with the United Nations and allow U.N. experts already in Syria to look into the latest purported use of chemical agents.