Top Syrian rebel groups denied Monday they have used chemical weapons against the Assad regime, claiming they don't have the capability or motivation to launch such an attack.
Free Syrian Army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Salim Idris said in a statement his group doesn't know where the regime's weapons of mass destruction are stored, and instead accused the government of using chemical agents against innocent civilians.
"The Free Syrian Army has neither the capabilities nor the motivation to deploy chemical weapons on Syria's battlefields," Idris said in a May 6 memo obtained by U.S. News. "Assad's chemical weapons stores, which have been used by the regime numerous times in recent months against opposition forces and supportive civilian populations, have not yet been located, contained, or secured by FSA units."
The denial comes on the heels of accusations leveled by Carla Del Ponte, a former chief prosecutor for two U.N. international criminal tribunals, who told a Swiss television station on Sunday that U.N. weapons inspectors had "strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof" that the Syrian opposition may have used chemical weapons.
But the United Nations has tapped the breaks following these claims and rebel denials. Its Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in a Monday statement that it "has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict."
The commission added it would decline to comment further.
Syria experts say these claims further confuse those who are still undecided on what to do in Syria.
"It helps blur all these lines about what is a 'red line,' in terms of international intervention," says Elizabeth O'Bagy, a senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. "But also for people inside [Syria], who are torn between supporting the regime or supporting the opposition."
The U.S. likely already has any evidence it needs to determine the use of chemical weapons, O'Bagy says, but has not yet figured out the best political and military strategy for involving itself in Syria.
The Syrian Support Group points to an increase in the brutal violence of the Syrian war, regardless of which side is responsible.
"The U.S. should continue to consider the threat that Syrian citizens and the wider region is under," says Dan Layman, a spokesman for SSG which raises funds for the opposition under a license from the U.S. Treasury Department.
"Though the reports of possible opposition chemical weapons use are ill-informed, the reports themselves are reflective of the increasing destabilization and regionalization of the conflict," he says. "This is something that the U.S. and other countries have to add to the scale when weighing the benefits and detriments of international intervention. "
Despite the graphic nature of these most recent accounts, the U.S. likely won't get further involved because of it, O'Bagy says.
"There has not been enough motivation to get more involved, and I don't think this will be the 'make it or break it' that prevents or creates the need for greater motivation," she says.
Experts on Syrian politics say Assad is a master at calculating just how far he is able to escalate the use of force against his own people before it sparks international intervention. So far he has kept the death toll low enough for the U.S. to tolerate the ongoing violence.
"A large-scale attack, something that was undeniable, where hundreds or thousands are killed, that could be enough," says O'Bagy. "It's very much part of Assad's strategy. From the beginning of the uprising he's been pushing his boundaries."
"Every time he doesn't get a response from the international community, he ups the ante," she adds.
Western countries had largely remained uninvolved militarily until reports this weekend that the Israeli military had conducted targeted strikes on Syrian military facilities. Israel claims it intervened to prevent the spread of "game changing" weapons of mass destruction to Hezbollah, the militant political party in Lebanon.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is back to "business as usual" as he departs for a trip to China.
The Israeli Defense Forces' active Twitter account also made no direct mention of the strikes. It tweeted a statement from Maj. Gen. Yair Golan who said on Monday that "there are no winds of war," along the northern border of Israel, which is shares with Lebanon and Syria.
This latest military action shows that western nations can defeat the Syrian anti-aircraft network, which has received minimal attention from U.S. military planners.
These targeted strikes will also likely have little effect of the on-the-ground efforts.
"I do not think this will significantly alter the military campaign for the FSA in the short term," says SSG's Layman. "Their units are concentrated with varying strengths on fronts and near regime strongholds that demand the largest commitments of forces, and unless these strikes alter the layout of Syrian military positions, they will otherwise not likely alter the battle plans of the armed opposition."
These strikes do, however, "take their toll on equipment, capabilities, and morale of the regime's army," which could heighten confidence and moral among the rebel fighters.
O'Bagy adds thsee strikes have done little to help the rebel fighters.
"The very limited nature of the air strikes in terms of destroying strategic capabilities rather than enhance or empower the opposition means, longterm, it degrades the Syrian regime capability, but it doesn't help the opposition right now," she says, adding "this goes to show it is possible and there are ways around the Syrian defense."
The situation in Syria was likely at the forefront of the discussion in the inaugural Pentagon meeting between State Secretary John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Kerry leaves for a trip to Russia on Monday on which Syria will be at the top of his agenda, which many Syria watchers see as a critical linchpin to international intervention in the wartorn country. Russia is a historical ally of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and has sent warships on at least two separate occasions to anchor off the Syrian coast since fighting began.