News / Middle East

Chemical Weapons Attack Reported in Syria

Residents and medics transport a Syrian Army soldier, wounded in what they said was a chemical weapon attack near Aleppo, to a hospital, March 19, 2013.
Residents and medics transport a Syrian Army soldier, wounded in what they said was a chemical weapon attack near Aleppo, to a hospital, March 19, 2013.
Syria’s government and rebels traded accusations Tuesday over reports of the use of a chemical weapon in the northwest of the city of Aleppo that killed more than 20 people and wounded another 80, with each side blaming the other for the attack.

A Reuters photographer touring hospitals in Aleppo said he had seen patients suffering breathing problems, who told him there was chlorine in the air immediately after the attack in Khan al-Assal.
 
"I saw mostly women and children," he told the wire agency. "They said that people were suffocating in the streets and the air smelled strongly of chlorine,” he reported after visiting the University of Aleppo hospital and the al-Rajaa hospital, both state-controlled.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict through contacts in Syria, put the number of dead in Tuesday’s attack at 26.

Syrian state media quickly announced that rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad fired a chemical weapon. Syria's Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi called the incident an "escalation," saying it was "dangerous shift in the course of what is taking place in Syria on the security and military levels.”

Rebel leaders angrily disputed the claim.

"We believe they fired a Scud with chemical agents," said Qassim Saadeddine. “The rebels were not behind this attack."

Other rebel leaders told VOA in telephone interviews that it would make no sense for them to launch a rocket strike on a city they largely controlled.

There has been no independent verification of a chemical attack. If confirmed, the attack would be the first verified use of chemical weapons in the brutal two-year conflict.

A White House spokesman said the Obama administration was "looking carefully" at allegations a chemical weapons attack had taken place, but added that so far there was "no evidence" to substantiate the claim.

The Syrian military has an extensive arsenal of chemical weapons, believed to include asphyxiants, blistering agents and choking agents like chlorine. There have long been worries that such chemical weapons could be used -- either by Assad loyalists or by rebels, if they managed to secure any stockpiles from Syrian military bases they overran.

President Barack Obama publicly warned Assad in December against any use of chemical weapons.
 
“The use of chemical weapons is, and would be, totally unacceptable,” Obama said. “If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable."
 
His warning was came after U.S. intelligence officials said there was evidence that chemical weapons components had been moved around the country and that they feared some precursor chemicals may have been mixed for possible use as weapons.

A British Foreign Office spokeswoman said Tuesday she was aware of the reports of possible chemical weapons use, saying that if proven, such a deployment would “demand a serious response from the international community and force us to revisit our approach so far.”

Britain and France have been lobbying other European Union countries to lift an arms embargo preventing EU countries from arming Syrian rebels.

Syrian officials have declined to confirm in the past that the regime possesses chemical weapons, but they have insisted that if they exist, they would be used only to defend against “foreign aggression” and not deployed in the civil war.

According to the claims of Information Minister al-Zoabi, rebels fired a rocket with a chemical warhead from Aleppo's southeastern district of Nairab at the town of Khan al-Assal.  The rebels say Assad’s forces launched used a Scud missile with a chemical warhead during intense fighting in Khan al-Assal.

Story continues below photo gallery
  • Gas cylinders are displayed for sale on a street in Aleppo, March 24, 2013.
  • A man sells clothes in Aleppo March 24, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters carry weapons while walking down a debris-filled street in Aleppo March 19, 2013.
  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Aleppo Media Center shows Syrians searching for dead bodies in the rubble of buildings hit by Syrian airstrikes, Aleppo, March 20, 2013.
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma visit families of students killed during clashes between forces loyal to him and their opponents in Damascus in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA on March 20, 2013.
  • Residents and medics transport a Syrian Army soldier, wounded in what they said was a chemical weapon attack near Aleppo, to a hospital, March 19, 2013.
  • People wounded in what the Syrian government said was a chemical weapons attack breathe through oxygen masks as they are treated at a hospital in Aleppo, March 19, 2013.
  • Girls paint their faces with colors of the Syrian revolutionary flag during a fesitval, in Aleppo, Syria, March 20, 2013.
  • A citizen journalism image of black smoke rising from a building hit by Syrian government shelling, Aleppo, March 19, 2013.

Syrian state TV aired broadcast footage of what it said were casualties arriving at a hospital in Aleppo.

British chemical warfare expert Hamish Bretton-Gordon said Tuesday he gives little credence to claims by either side of a chemical weapons attack. He said Syrian government television video of the alleged casualties did not correspond with what one would expect to see in such a situation.
 
 “In this particular case a rocket could have hit industrial toxic chemicals stored on the ground and caused their release, but none of the doctors treating patients in the hospitals are wearing any protective clothing, which is usually a good combat indicator. Without it they would be affected," said Bretton-Gordon, a former chemical warfare expert for the British defense ministry.

He added that the smell of chlorine was not a definitive indicator of chemical weapons use because, "you often get that in the vicinity of conventional explosions." He added that “chlorine has not really been used as a chemical weapon since the First World War – it is not very effective."

In related developments, exiled Syrian opposition leaders elected Ghassan Hitto Tuesday as prime minister of a government that would replace the Assad regime. The opposition government would be based on an interim basis in Syrian territory under rebel control.

Hitto has lived in the United States for years, but moved to Turkey last year to help coordinate aid to the rebels.
 
More than 100 countries have recognized the exiled opposition coalition Hitto now leads as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Among those nations are the United States, Britain, France and Turkey.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jim213 from: USA
March 19, 2013 10:22 PM
If chemical weapons were used there would be way more then 30 people suffering !

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs