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U.S. officials say 'no doubt' on Syrian chemical weapons: congressman

People look at the damage at a site hit by what activists say was a car bomb in Raqqa province, eastern Syria August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Nour
People look at the damage at a site hit by what activists say was a car bomb in Raqqa province, eastern Syria August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Nour

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Obama administration officials told lawmakers on Thursday that they have "no doubt" chemical weapons were used in Syria and that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government had used them, U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, who participated in the call, told Reuters.

The senior administration officials cited evidence including "intercepted communications from high-level Syrian officials" on a conference call with lawmakers, said Engel, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

They also cited evidence including seeing personnel being moved around Damascus that indicated "it was ready for something big like a chemical attack," he said.

The officials who conducted the briefing included Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"They made it clear that they have no doubt that chemical weapons were used and that the Assad regime were the ones who used them," Engel said in a telephone interview.

President Barack Obama is still gathering information and has not yet decided whether or not he will order a strike, Engel said.

"He has not yet decided the scope of it and not yet decided the time of it," Engel said.

A vote in the British parliament against military action in Syria on Thursday was raised during the call, he said.

"The response was that the president will do what he feels is in the best interests of the American people regardless of what other countries may or may not do," Engel said.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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