BEIRUT - Syria's government and rebels accused each other of
firing a rocket loaded with chemical agents outside the northern city of Aleppo
on Tuesday, an attack which a cabinet minister said killed 16 people and wounded
President Bashar al-Assad, battling a two-year uprising against his
rule, is widely believed to have a chemical arsenal.
have neither confirmed nor denied this, but have said that if it existed it
would be used to defend against foreign aggression, not against Syrians. There
have been no previous reports of chemical weapons in the hands of
Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi said rebels fired a
rocket with chemical weapons at the town of Khan al-Assal, southwest of Aleppo,
in what he called a "dangerous escalation".
But a senior rebel commander,
Qassim Saadeddine, denied the accusation and said he believed forces loyal to
Assad had fired a Scud missile carrying chemical agents.
Barack Obama, who has resisted overt military intervention in Syria's
two-year-old civil war, has warned Assad that any use of chemical weapons would
be a "red line".
Washington has also expressed concern about chemical
weapons falling into the hands of militant groups - either hardline Islamist
rebels fighting to topple Assad or his regional allies.
Zoabi said 16
people were killed and 86 wounded - many of them critically - in the attack
which he said was launched from Aleppo's southeastern district of Nairab towards
He said Turkey and Qatar, which have supported rebels,
bore "legal, moral and political responsibility" for the
Saadeddine, a spokesman for the Higher Military Council in
Aleppo, said the rebels had not carried out the attack.
"We were hearing
reports from early this morning about a regime attack on Khan al-Assal, and we
believe they fired a Scud with chemical agents," he told Reuters by telephone
"Then suddenly we learned that the regime was turning these
reports against us," he said. "The rebels were not behind this attack." Two
weeks ago rebel fighters seized a police academy in Khan al-Assal, about eight
km (five miles) southwest of Aleppo, which was being used as an artillery base
by Assad's troops.
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which
monitors the conflict using a network of contacts in Syria, said Assad's forces
had since retaken at least part of the town.
In the capital Damascus,
activists released video footage on Tuesday showing men and boys lying in a
medical centre, all of them receiving oxygen, in the aftermath of what they said
was a separate chemical attack.
They gave no details or casualty toll for
what they said was an attack in Otaiba, east of Damascus. Like other videos and
activist reports, it could not be independently verified.
One boy in a
light blue sweater lay apparently unconscious on a medical bed with mucus around
his mouth and nose. A man was using a suction tube to remove the mucus from
inside his nose and the boy twitched.