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

    Video Twists and Turns Aplenty in US Presidential Race

    Even as Americans pause for this week’s Memorial Day holiday, much attention is focused on the presidential contest

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora