German intelligence sources suggest President Assad did not authorise the use of chemical weapons against opponents, and may even have sought to block them.
The reports appeared last night in the newspaper Bild am Sonntag and on Reuters as US Secretary of State John Kerry ratcheted up his pro-war rhetoric in an effort to get congress to vote for military strikes on Syria.
The high-level intelligence findings are based on phone call intercepts by a German surveillance ship operated by the BND, the German intelligence service, and deployed off the Syrian coast, says the newspaper.
As with the conflicting US, UK and French intelligence claims, the sources are so far unidentified.
Syrian brigade and division commanders had been asking the Presidential Palace to allow them to use chemical weapons for the last four-and-a-half months, according to the radio messages, but permission had always been denied, reported Bild.
The radio traffic was intercepted by a German naval reconnaissance vessel, the Oker, sailing close to the Syrian coast, the newspaper said.
There have been suggestions that Assad's brother may have authorised the use of chemicals against civilians in revenge for an assassination attempt, reflecting both divisions within the regime, and the fact that Assad, while clearly culpable for what is being done by the armed forces, is not fully in control of events and insofar as he wishes to stay in power is to an extent a prisoner of them.
The dictator has sought to publicly exonerate himself from the 21 August attack outside Damascus, in which hundreds died.
"There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people," he said in a recent interview with CBS – a comment which observers noted was open to multiple interpretations.
Though the evidence gathered by Western sources strongly suggests the likelihood that the attacks came from within the regime, who ordered them, why, and with what proximity to leadership at the very top is not clear – despite robust rhetoric from President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, who have already mortgaged their political reputations on going ahead with a punitive missile strike hat others say could bring further, fatal conflagration in the region.
Last week, BND chief Gerhard Schindler said his agency shared the view that the attack had been launched from the regime and not rebels. But he added that the spy agency had no conclusive evidence either way, and said he believed that Assad would remain in power for some time irrespective of an attack.
Calls between a Hezbollah official and the Iranian Embassy in Damascus suggest regime culpability.
Germany remains opposed to a Western military strike and says it will not take part in one.
* More on Syria from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria