Ya'alon: We don't believe Assad has used chemical weapons

Strategic Affairs minister says Israel is following developments in Syria closely, but has seen no proof supporting opposition claims of WMD use; Gulf states demand international action in Syria.

Gas masks 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Gas masks 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Claims by Syrian rebels that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on multiple occasions in recent weeks lack evidence, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Tuesday.
Rebel sources said Assad’s forces had used gas in Homs on Monday, resulting in seven deaths and several serious injuries in a rebel-controlled neighborhood of the city.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army said the regime had used deadly chemical weapons in no fewer than 18 attacks recently.
Accompanying the reports were photographs of wounded people in the hospital from Monday’s clashes, and Arabic media said some of the wounded suffered from breathing difficulties, severe nausea and loss of muscle of control.
But Ya’alon, who is also vice prime minister, said the claims lacked corroboration.
“We have seen reports from the opposition. It is not the first time. The opposition has an interest in drawing in international military intervention,” he told Army Radio.
“As things stand now, we do not have any confirmation or proof that [chemical weapons] have already been used, but we are definitely following events with concern,” he added.
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Responding to the images of the wounded, he said, “I’m not sure that what we’re seeing in the photos is the result of the use of chemical weapons. It could be other things.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gathered activist accounts on Sunday of what it said was a poison gas attack in Homs.
The Observatory, a Britishbased group with a network of activists across Syria, said those activists spoke of six rebel fighters who had died after inhaling smoke on the front line of Homs’s urban battleground.
The organization said it could not confirm that poison gas had been used and called for an investigation.
Earlier this month, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Feisal Mekdad told Sky News that he “did not know” whether Syria possessed chemical weapons.
Either way, he vowed, they would never be used against Syrian civilians.
In July, Ahmad Slash, a Syrian member of parliament and deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee, told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, “These biological and chemical weapons are intended for a confrontation with the country’s enemies.”
He added, “We have advanced weapons. Why lie to the people? We have them.
That is what’s known as the balance of power. You have nuclear weapons, and we have advanced biological weapons.
We counter might with might, but we’re keeping this for the end.”
On Sunday, senior Israeli defense official Amos Gilad said Syria’s chemical weapons were still secure even though Assad had lost control of parts of the country.
Reuters contributed to this report.