Syrian regime, opposition forces blame each other for chemical attack

Opposition says Assad forces dropped toxins on town in central province; state TV claims al-Qaida-linked rebels responsible.

By YASSER OKBI,
April 12, 2014 19:50
2 minute read.
aleppo syria

Smoke rises during clashes between government forces and rebels in Aleppo, April 11, 2014.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The Syrian regime and opposition forces accused each other on Saturday of carrying out a chemical attack on the village of Kafr Zeita, located in the embattled country’s western-central province of Hama.

Opposition activists reported that dozens of residents suffered from symptoms of suffocation after air units loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad targeted the town with explosive barrels allegedly containing toxic material.

Meanwhile, Syrian state television reported that the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front rebel group was responsible for an attack using chlorine gas, killing two people and wounding more than 100 others.

Last Monday, an Israeli security source confirmed that the Assad regime had used a non-lethal chemical weapon on March 27 on the outskirts of Damascus. The source said he could confirm claims made by Syrian rebels and doctors last month that a substance had been used on rebel fighters in Harasta, an outlying region of the Syrian capital, adding that the chemical “neutralizes [threats] but does not kill.”

A second alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime occurred in the same area within days of the first attack, according to Syrian opposition sources, though the Israeli security source said he could not confirm the report.

In one instance, according to the New York-based website Syria Deeply, which interviewed doctors on the ground, 25 fighters were wounded.

Despite the assertion by the Israeli source that the chemical was nonlethal, some reports suggested that four people had died in the March 27 attack.

Syria Deeply cited the Syrian American Medical Society, a group of Syrian-American doctors and surgeons who travel to Syria, as condemning what it described as a “poisonous gas attack” in Harasta.


“Symptoms suffered by patients included hallucinations, accelerated pulse, trouble breathing and, in some cases, suffocation,” according to SAMS.

Syria has destroyed the majority of its chemical weapon production centers and is in the midst of transporting existing arms from storage sites to ships in Latakia to remove the substances and destroy them, according to Israeli security assessments.

The disarmament efforts, which have been stepped up in recent weeks, are being managed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Israel is expected to closely monitor the situation to try and see whether Assad attempts to secretly keep some chemical arms.

Prior to the disarmament program, Syria had amassed the world’s largest stockpile of VX nerve agents, Sarin and mustard gas.

In August 2013, a chemical attack on a rebel-held area north of Damascus left 1,400 civilians dead. The massacre led to a Russian- brokered disarmament agreement that saw Assad agree to give up the unconventional arms in exchange for avoiding a US military strike.

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