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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday the situation in Syria is "spinning out of control" after two top Syrian leaders were killed in a bombing of Syria's national security headquarters.
"The violence there has only gotten worse and the loss of life has only increased, which tells us that this is a situation that's rapidly spinning out of control," Panetta said at a Pentagon news conference he held with U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond.
The two defense ministers discussed the recent increase of violence seen in Syria's capital city and what roles the U.S. and U.K. militaries could play should their governments choose to intervene. Panetta and Hammond issued a stern warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the use of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.
"We will not tolerate the use or the proliferation of those chemical weapons," Hammond said.
A bomb attack on the Syrian national security headquarters, led by the Syrian rebels, killed Defense Minister Dawoud Rajhah and Assad's brother-in-law Major General Assef Shawkat. Interior minister Mohammed al-Shaar and General Hisham Ikhtiyar, head of National Security, were wounded in the bombing.
The brazen attack has led to questions over what Assad's military response will be and if his regime will resort to chemical weapons if fighting penetrates too far into Damascus.
Panetta and Hammond agreed that any use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces would be unacceptable and that Assad would be held responsible should any actions be taken at Syria's "chemical sites."
"We've made very clear to them that they have a responsibility to safeguard their chemical sites and that we will hold them responsible should anything happen with regards to those sites," Panetta said.
Israeli and Western officials have said they've seen activity at the Syrian's chemical sites, but there is no certainty whether the movement is to prepare for a potential attack or protect the weapons in case the sites are overrun by rebel forces.
Hammond made the case for continued dialogue with what seemed to be Russia and China diplomats in talks with the Syrian government. He didn't name either country, only saying those "who have the greatest influence," but his implication was to speak with Russia and China and press upon them the importance of protecting the chemical weapons.
Russia and China have historically been the largest exporters of weapons and military vehicles for Assad's regime. Russia leaders briefly said they'd restrict their weapons exports because of the killing of civilians, but has since rescinded those comments and re-started their shipments.
"Our diplomacy has to focus on getting those who have the greatest influence with the regime to ensure that it acts responsibly in relations to chemical weapons," Hammond said.
So far, over 17,000 people have been killed since the fighting between the Free Syrian Army and Assad's government regime began 15 months ago, according to officials with the Free Syrian Army.
Wednesday's bombing is evidence the Syrian rebels have been "emboldened" by recent fighting in the city and a sign Assad's regime is fragmenting, Hammond said.
"I think what we're seeing is an opposition which is emboldened, clearly an opposition with access increasingly to weaponry, and probably some fragmentation around the edges of the regime as well," Hammond said.
Panetta said in no uncertain terms the only acceptable result was to Assad to step down and a peaceful transition of power take place in Syria. This has been a repeated statement by President Obama's administration.