WASHINGTON - US intelligence services overheard a Syrian defense ministry official in "panicked phone calls with the leader of a chemical weapons unit" after last week's deadly chemical attack, Foreign Policy magazine reported Tuesday.
"Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people," the report said.
"Those conversations were overheard by US intelligence services," the magazine said in a statement. "That is the major reason why American officials now say they're certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime -- and why the US military is likely to attack that regime in a matter of days."
The report comes as US forces geared up to strike Syria, though the West insists its goal is not regime change but to punish Assad's government for unleashing chemical warfare on civilians.
The ground for a military intervention was laid out by US Vice President Joe Biden, who for the first time said last week's attack, thought to have killed hundreds, could only have been perpetrated by Assad's forces.
But the onrushing likelihood of action within days was met with defiance in Damascus, with regime officials pledging to fight any attack with "surprise" measures, while Syrian allies Russia and Iran warned of dire consequences.
Britain and France also moved to back the use of force in Syria, while the White House promised to provide declassified evidence this week to prove that the August 21 chemical attack was the work of regime forces.