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Sergei Chirikov / pool via AP

The White House is convinced that the Syrian government used sarin gas on its own citizens, according to senior administration officials. In a background briefing on Tuesday, they laid out their evidence, including why they think Russia is conducting a "disinformation" campaign.

Why they are convinced it was the Syrians, and was sarin:

  • The "immense" quantity of video and eyewitness evidence, as well as intelligence — all pointing toward a chemical weapons (CW) attack — is too massive and consistent to have been fabricated.
  • Personnel affiliated with the CW program had previously been spotted at the base from which the attack was launched, and were there the day before the attack.
  • Victims showed symptoms of sarin exposure, and the regime is the only actor in the area with access to sarin.

Why they are convinced Russia is lying:

  • "Level of cooperation" between Russia and Syria and holes in Russian narrative make it "clear that the Russians are trying to cover up what happened here."
  • Russia says the deadly gas was released after a bomb hit a munitions depot, but the munition the US has seen containing sarin landed in the middle of the street.
  • "We do think that it's a question worth asking the Russians, about how is it possible that their forces were co-located with the Syrian forces that prepared and carried out the chemical weapons attack and did not have foreknowledge."

Why Syria would carry out such an attack:

  • A rebel offensive in the area had threatened a key air base: "They were losing in a particularly important area and that's what drove it."
  • "At that point the regime, we believe, determined that with its manpower spread quite thin... chemical weapons were necessary to make up for the manpower deficiency."
  • They wanted to hit the civilian area to put pressure on rebels operating nearby.

On the potential for further attacks:

  • "We take very seriously the possibility that Syria may have other agents elsewhere" and are looking into where the munitions may be and who is controlling them.
  • More than 200 allegations of CW use since 2013, "we assess that many of those are credible."

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Health

Food banks feel the strain without holiday volunteers

People wait in line at Food Bank Community Kitchen on Nov. 25 in New York City. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food Bank For New York City

America's food banks are sounding the alarm during this unprecedented holiday season.

The big picture: Soup kitchens and charities, usually brimming with holiday volunteers, are getting far less help.

5 hours ago - Health

AstraZeneca CEO: "We need to do an additional study" on COVID vaccine

Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said on Thursday the company is likely to start a new global trial to measure how effective its coronavirus vaccine is, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: Following Phase 3 trials, Oxford and AstraZeneca said their vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.