Syrian Rebels ‘Use Chemical Weapon’

March 19, 2013

Syrian state media say rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad have fired a chemical weapon in the north of the country.

"Terrorists launched a missile containing chemical products into the region of Khan al-Assal in the province of Aleppo, killing 15 people, mainly civilians," Sana news agency said.

The government routinely refers to rebels as "terrorists".

Rebels denied the report, accusing the government of using chemical agents.

"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," a senior rebel and spokesman for the Higher Military Council in Aleppo, Qassim Saadeddine, told Reuters news agency.

"Then suddenly we learned that the regime was turning these reports against us. The rebels were not behind this attack."

The Aleppo Media Centre, which is affiliated to the rebels, said there had been cases of "suffocation and poison'' among civilians in Khan al-Assal after a surface-to-surface missile was fired at the area.

But it said this was "most likely" due to use of "poisonous gases" by government forces.

Syria's Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi said that as many as 86 people had been injured in Khan al-Assal, calling the incident a "dangerous escalation" and the "first act" of a newly announced rebel authority.

He also said that Turkey and Qatar, both of which support Syria's uprising, bore "legal, moral and political responsibility" for the attack, state TV reported.

An unnamed Turkish government official denied any links to the reported attack.

"This is a baseless accusation, the Syrian government has accused Turkey in the past as well," the official told Reuters news agency.

The Syrian government itself has a large stockpile of chemical weapons, and there has been widespread international concern about their security and the possibility that they might be used.

In his first speech after being chosen by the Syrian opposition groups as prime minister of the rebel-held areas, Ghassan Hitto ruled out dialogue with the government.

"We confirm to our people that there is no place for dialogue with the Assad regime," he said in a speech to media and members of the opposition Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul.

Mr Hitto is a Damascus-born IT expert who has lived in the US for many years.

An estimated 70,000 people have been killed and one million have fled Syria since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad began two years ago.

Story source: BBC