Syria: accusations fly over 'chemical weapons' attack

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Syria: accusations fly over 'chemical weapons' attack

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Accusations are flying in Syria over whether a chemical weapon has been used and who is to blame.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad says rebel forces fired a rocket loaded with chemical agents in Aleppo province, killing at least 26 people and injuring dozens more. State television later raised the death toll to 25 people.

Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi said Turkey and Qatar must also bear some responsibility for the blast because of their support for the rebels.

But the anti-Assad Syrian National Coalition says the government line does not make sense. The group’s spokesman said: “If chemical weapons were used, and that is a big ‘if’ – we are trying to investigate that – but if they were used, it is the Syrian government that has access to them and would have used them against the civilian population.”

Reuters journalists in Syria have reported that many people have been suffering breathing problems, and the smell of chlorine has permeated the Aleppo air.

Russia has backed the Syrian government’s claims. A Foreign Ministry statement said: “We are seriously concerned by the fact that weapons of mass destruction are falling into the hands of the rebels, which further worsens the situation in Syria and elevates the level of confrontation in the country to a new level.”

Among Western governments, the US has said it has no evidence to support the claim that Syrian rebels have possession of any chemical weapons. President Barack Obama has previously said that the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces would be a “red line.”

A UK Foreign Office spokeswoman responded to today’s claims by saying that the deployment of chemical weapons would “demand a serious response from the international community and force us to revisit our approach so far.”