Top military leaders to meet in Amman to discuss possible Syria intervention
A handout image, released by the Syrian opposition’s Shaam News Network on Friday, shows a relative weeping over the body of one of his family members killed during what Syrian rebels claim to be a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in East Ghouta last week, during their funeral on the outskirts of Damascus (AFP photo)
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Top Western and Arab military officials are set to gather in Amman “in the coming few days to discuss issues related to regional security and related developments, especially with regard to the Syrian crisis and its consequences”, the Jordan Armed Forces (JAF) said in a statement.
The statement, carried by the Jordan News Agency, Petra, late Saturday, quoted a JAF source as saying that participants in the meeting, which came upon an invitation by JAF Chairman Major General Mashal Al Zaban, include US Joint Chiefs-of-Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey and several Western and Arab peers.
“This meeting will provide an opportunity for participants to study the regional security situation and the threats posed by various crises, specifically Syria and its impacts… on the region,” read the JAF statement.
The high-ranking military officials represent the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The statement said the meeting is a “continuation of bilateral and multilateral meetings and will be followed by others in the future aimed at continued coordination between the participating countries to assess current developments and their impact on the regional security in general”.
Jordan will seize the opportunity to improve its bilateral military ties with participating countries, the statement said.
The JAF did not specifically refer to the alleged chemical attack reported in Syria late last week, but a source told The Jordan Times that the issue is on the agenda of the meeting, where the top officers are expected to “explore a potential military response should Damascus’ alleged use of chemical weapons directly threaten neighbouring states and regional security”.
“The US and Jordan have made it clear several times — the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a red line,” a Jordanian military official close to the proceedings told The Jordan Times. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.
The JAF declined to disclose a date for this week’s summit, with Jordanian military officials expecting the gathering to be held on Tuesday pending participants’ availability.
The meeting’s announcement came as US officials acknowledged that Washington is weighing a potential military strike in Syria.
In a press statement Friday night, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel noted that President Barack Obama had asked the Pentagon to prepare a “range of options in Syria”, including potential military strikes.
“The Defence Department has a responsibility to provide the president with options for contingencies, and that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets, to be able to carry out different options — whatever options the president might choose,” Hagel said aboard a flight to Asia.
The summit comes less than a week after Syrian regime forces allegedly deployed chemical weapons in several towns and villages in the Damascene countryside, allegedly killing over 1,300 civilians and rebel fighters.
The reported attacks triggered a mass exodus of thousands of civilians from the towns of East Ghouta, West Ghouta and Zamalka towards Jordan, which has received over 560,000 refugees since the onset of the two-year-old conflict.
The alleged attacks have drawn widespread condemnation from the international community and were discussed at an emergency UN Security Council meeting last week.
The US has stepped up its military presence in Jordan in light of spiralling violence in Syria, establishing a monitoring and training centre near the Jordanian-Syrian border in order to monitor potential chemical weapons use and providing the country with F-16 fighter jets and Patriot missile batteries to fortify its border defences.
During a recent visit to Jordan earlier this month, Dempsey admitted that the US military presence in the country may last “for years” should the crisis continue.
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