Did President Bashar al-Assad personally order the chemical weapons attack that was carried out on eastern Damascus on August 21? Or was the decision to mount the attack taken by military commanders without Mr Assad’s knowledge, or that of the closest people to him? As the US presses ahead with its argument that there must be a response to the chemical attack, these questions are increasingly under discussion.
In their intelligence assessments of the August 21 attack, the US, Britain and France have stated with high confidence that the Assad regime was responsible for what happened.
But the question of whether Mr Assad personally knew about the attack in advance – or whether the assault happened without him being forewarned – is an intriguing one. It gained a sharper focus at the weekend after Germany’s Bild am Sonntag paper cited a unnamed German intelligence officials saying they believed he had not given the order. These officials based this assessment on intelligence suggesting Syrian brigade commanders had been asking Mr Assad to allow them to use chemical weapons for the last four and a half months – but permission had always been denied. Read more