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US to Help Syrian Opposition Fight Chemical Weapons

U.S. President Barack Obama has signed an executive order directing the government to provide some factions of the Syrian opposition with aid and training to deal with any future chemical weapons attacks.

The White House says the order, signed Monday, allows the government to train "selected" members of the opposition. It provides protective equipment and training to international aid organizations.

This directive came just hours after United Nations inspectors issued a report citing "clear and convincing evidence" that deadly sarin gas was used on a relatively large scale in a chemical attack near Damascus last month that Washington says killed 1,400 people.

The report did not speculate on who launched the August 21 attack on the rebel-held suburb of Ghouta. But President Obama and other Western leaders, citing witness accounts and other evidence, blame forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad for the attack -- a charge the Assad government denies.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the evidence gathered by U.N. inspectors "indisputably" and "overwhelmingly" confirms the use of poison gas.

Mr. Ban, speaking after a closed-door briefing to the U.N. Security Council, described the attack as a war crime, and said 85 percent of blood samples from the victims showed evidence of sarin gas. He also said recovered fragments from surface-to-surface delivery rockets showed sarin use "beyond doubt and beyond the pale."

The report itself cited survivors describing "a military attack with shelling," followed by an onset of symptoms including "blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and an eventual loss of consciousness."

A White House spokesman noted that only the Syrian army has surface-to-surface rockets.

Earlier Monday, the United States, France and Britain agreed on the need for a strong United Nations resolution that sets precise and binding deadlines for Syria to give up its chemical weapons.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Paris, said anything less than full compliance by the Syrian government with a U.N. resolution will not be accepted. He also expressed the need to find a lasting solution beyond taking chemical weapons away from Mr. Assad's forces.

"We understand that removing the chemical weapons still leaves him with artillery and airplanes and he uses them indiscriminately against his people, and we are going to do everything in our power to continue to work towards the political resolution that is so critical to ending that violence."

Kerry spoke alongside British counterpart William Hague and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, after talks aimed at solidifying Western resolve to force the Assad government to eliminate its chemical stockpile.

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