PARIS (AP) — France released an intelligence report on Monday alleging chemical weapons use by Syria’s regime that dovetailed with similar U.S. claims, as President Bashar Assad warned any military strike against his country would spark an uncontrollable regional war and spread “chaos and extremism.”
The verbal crossfire, including a rejection of the Western allegations by longtime Syrian ally Russia, was part of frenzied efforts on both sides to court international public opinion after President Barack Obama said he would seek authorization from Congress before launching any military action against Assad’s regime.
In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Assad was quoted as saying Syria has challenged the U.S. and France to provide proof to support their allegations, but their leaders “have been incapable of doing that, including before their own peoples.”
“If the Americans, the French or the British had a shred of proof, they would have shown it beginning on the first day,” he said, deriding Obama as “weak” and having buckled to U.S. domestic political pressure.
“We believe that a strong man is one who prevents war, not one who inflames it,” Assad said.
French President Francois Hollande and Obama have been the two world leaders most vocally calling for action against Assad’s regime, accusing it of carrying out a deadly chemical attack against rebel-held suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21.
The U.S. said it has proof the Assad regime is behind attacks that Washington claims killed at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children. Those numbers are significantly higher than the death toll of 355 provided by the aid group Doctors Without Borders.
It has marked an intolerable escalation in a two-year civil war in Syria that has left some 100,000 people dead.
The Syrian government denies the allegations, and blames opposition fighters. In the Figaro interview, Assad questioned whether an attack took place at all and refused to say whether his forces have chemical weapons, as is widely believed.