Syria’s government and opposition rebels are accusing each other of launching a deadly chemical attack near the war-torn city of Aleppo. If confirmed, this would be the first use of chemical weapons in this civil conflict that has violently riddled the country for two years.
Being a breach of international law, the use of chemical weapons would likely invoke international intervention. However, although the alleged attack has reportedly killed at least 25 people, there is doubt from international entities who speculate that there is little evidence confirming the use of chemical weapons.
In a live press-conference through the state-run news agency SANA, Syrian information minister, Omran al-Zoabi, said Syrian rebels breached international law by fired rockets containing chemical agents on Tuesday.
SANA published photos showing casualties, including children, on stretches of what looks to be a hospital ward. None show signs of physical injuries. “The substance in the rocket causes unconsciousness, then convulsions, then death,” the minister said. The allegation by the government were backed by Damscus ally Russia but reports have not been verified due to tight media restrictions, particularly stifling in government-controlled areas where there is virtually no semblance of foreign media or outside observers.
To add to the confusion, a senior rebel commander, Qassim Saadeddine, who is also a spokesman for the Higher Military Council in Aleppo, denied all allegations, blaming Assad’s government forces for the alleged chemical strike.
In Washington, the United States said it had no evidence to substantiate charges that the rebels had used chemical weapons. A chemical weapons expert in the U.K told CBSNews that there is “very little evidence to suggest any actual chemical weapons has been deployed”.
Similarly, an anonymous U.S official told the Associated Press that there was no evidence of a chemical attacks. Experts have explained that conventional high explosive can produce an odor that might be mistaken for chlorine – which could have prompted the belief the attack was chemical.
The accusation of said chemical attack emerged merely a few hours after the opposition party elected a prime minister to head an interim government that would rule areas seized by rebel forces.
One of the international community’s top concerns since the devastating civil war began is Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons. The fear was not only that the weapons could be used by either side — but that these weapons could fall into the hands of foreign jihad fighters among the rebels or the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is allied with the regime. In July, the then-Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a news conference that Syria would only use chemical or biological weapons in case of foreign attack, not against its own people. The ministry then tried to erase the issue, saying it had never acknowledged having such weapons.