WASHINGTON (AP) -- Four Norfolk-based destroyers are on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea, positioned within striking distance of Syria, the Navy said Tuesday.
The guided-missile destroyers Gravely, Mahan, Ramage and Barry are all stationed in the eastern Mediterranean, a Navy spokesperson told 13News Now.
The U.S. military stands ready to strike Syria at once if President Barack Obama gives the order, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday as the United States prepared to formally declare that chemical weapons had been used in Syria's civil war.
The U.S. Navy last week moved a fourth destroyer into the eastern Mediterranean. Each ship can launch ballistic missiles.
U.S. officials said the growing intelligence pointed strongly toward Bashar Assad's government as the culprit in the chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs last week that activists say killed hundreds of people -- a claim Assad called "preposterous."
The U.S., along with allies in Europe, appeared to be laying the groundwork for the most aggressive response since the civil war began more than two years ago.
Two administration officials said the U.S. was expected to make public a more formal determination of chemical weapons use on Tuesday, with an announcement of Obama's response likely to follow quickly. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.
Syria has accused U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry of lying by claiming there is "undeniable" evidence of a large-scale chemical weapons attack in Syria likely carried out by the regime.
A statement on the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency says Kerry's insistence on "jumping over" the work of U.N. experts in Syria shows that the U.S. has deliberate intentions to exploit events.
Kerry said Monday there is "undeniable" evidence of a chemical weapons attack, with intelligence strongly pointing to President Bashar Assad's government as being responsible for the purported use of deadly gases in the Aug. 21 attack in the Damascus suburbs. Activists say hundreds of people were killed.
SANA in the statement Tuesday said Kerry has "fabricated" evidence.
Speaking to reporters at the State Department on Monday, Kerry was harshly critical of chemical warfare.
"By any standard, it is inexcusable and -- despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured -- it is undeniable," said Kerry, the highest-ranking U.S. official to confirm the attack in the Damascus suburbs that activists say killed hundreds of people.
Obama has not decided how to respond to the use of deadly gases, officials said. The White House said last year that type of warfare would cross a "red line." The U.S., along with allies in Europe, appeared to be laying the groundwork for the most aggressive response since Syria's civil war began more than two years ago.
Representative Scott Rigell made a public plea on Wednesday, asking other Congressman to sign his letter to President Obama, asking him to consult them before striking Syria.
"Other Reps interested in joining letter to POTUS pls call our office. 56 and counting. Letter is here: http://rigell.house.gov/uploadedfiles/0097_001.pdf," he said via his Twitter account, @RepScottRigell.
Read the letter in its entirety at the link above, or in the "Related" section at the top of this story.
Rigell updated followers on Twitter Wednesday afternoon with new numbers on how many representatives had signed his letter, saying "Letter update: 80 total members now. 67 Rs, 13 Ds. Will extend deadline until 3 pm to accommodate members still considering signing."