Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad AFP photo

A preliminary assessment made by U.S. and allied intelligence agencies concludes that chemical weapons were indeed used by Syrian forces in an attack near Damascus this week.

It is believed the attack was carried out with high-level approval from the government of President Bashar Al-Assad.

American and European security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Reuters news agency, cautioned that the assessment was preliminary and, at this stage, they were still seeking conclusive proof, which could take days, weeks or even longer to gather.

Meanwhile, senior U.S. officials are weighing choices for a response to the events in Syria, ranging from increased international sanctions to the use of force, including possible air strikes on Assad's forces, administration sources said.

A high-level meeting of members of Obama's National Security Council, the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies was held at the White House late on Thursday but made no decisions on what to recommend, officials said, and further discussions were planned.

While the preliminary U.S. assessment was that Assad loyalists carried out Wednesday's chemical attack with high level authorization, one U.S. source closely monitoring events in the region said it was also possible that a local commander decided on his own to use gas in advance of a ground assault.

Pressure has increased on President Barack Obama to act in response to the chemical attacks in Syria, particularly since he has in the past said that use of chemical weapons by Assad would be a “red line and a game-changer”.

Obama told CNN on Friday that the time is nearing for a potentially definitive U.S. response to the alleged Syrian government atrocities.

At the same time he said, "If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a UN mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it.”

France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said in a television interview Thursday that the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad, if proven, should lead to the use of force by other countries against Syria – but he ruled out a ground invasion.

“If it is proven, France's position is that there must be a reaction, a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force,” Fabius told BFM-TV.

“There are possibilities for responding,” he said without elaborating.

He said, however, that there was “no question” of sending in ground troops, adding “it's impossible.”

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)