Syrian government accuses rebels of launching chemical attack


At least 26 people have been killed and more than 80 wounded in what may have been the first chemical attack in Syria's two-year-old civil war. The Syrian government has accused rebel fighters of launching the attack against a village in Aleppo. The use of chemical weapons has yet to be confirmed, however, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Syrian Information Minister Omran al Zoubi claimed that the purported chemical attack was launched "from [the Da'el area in al-Neirab" in Aleppo against the village of Khan al Asal, which is currently under Syrian military control. The unidentified rebel forces fired "a rocket with chemical substances" at the village, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

A rebel commander from the "Ansar Brigade" told Reuters that his forces were not behind the attack, and accused the Syrian military of launching a Scud missile filled with a chemical agent.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the civil war, said a rocket attack in the town killed 26 people, including "16 regular soldiers." News reports indicate that chlorine gas was the likely agent as many victims smelled the chemical and reported problems breathing.

If confirmed, the chemical attack would be the first recorded in the Syrian civil war. While the Syrian government is known to possess massive stockpiles of chemical weapons, it has yet to use its deadly arsenal despite losing ground to rebel groups, including al Qaeda's affiliate, the Al Nusrah Front. The Assad regime has claimed it would not use chemical weapons against its own people, and that the poisonous agents would only be used against external enemies.

It is feared that Syrian rebel groups may have obtained access to the Assad regime's chemical weapons. In December 2012, the Al Nusrah Front and allied jihadist groups seized control of the Sheikh Suleiman base, or Base 111, in Aleppo, as well as a chlorine factory near the city. The Sheikh Suleiman base is thought to have been a key node in the Syrian military's chemical weapons program.

Additionally, jihadist groups such as the Al Nusrah Front have taken control of several Syrian military bases, including an air base in Aleppo that housed Scuds and anti-aircraft missiles. It is unclear if the jihadist groups have the expertise or capability to launch the weapons.

Al Qaeda has employed crude chlorine bombs in the past. From February to May 2007, al Qaeda in Iraq attempted 10 suicide attacks in Ramadi, Fallujah, Amiriya, Taji, and Baghdad, in which the bombs included chlorine gas containers. US and Iraqi forces also found several chlorine bomb factories in Anbar and Baghdad and intercepted several of the bombs before they were detonated. The attempts to disperse chlorine gas in the explosion were crude; although nearly all of the Iraqis close to the blasts were killed, many others in the surrounding areas were severely sickened but did not die. In Anbar, al Qaeda directed many of the chlorine gas attacks at civilian locations; their target was the Awakening, the group of tribes and former insurgents who opposed al Qaeda.



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READER COMMENTS: "Syrian government accuses rebels of launching chemical attack"

Posted by mike merlo at March 19, 2013 2:01 PM ET:

If true a very frightening development

Posted by dave3200 at March 19, 2013 4:30 PM ET:

The rebels are a tough crowd. Let's hope the US and its EU friends soon catch on to what's really happening and stop sending aid to the rebel invaders.

Posted by JT at March 19, 2013 4:40 PM ET:

The world will find out soon if chemicals were used and, if so, which group used them or tried to frame another group for using them.

Posted by Mr T at March 19, 2013 5:32 PM ET:

Give aid to rebels, give aid to Assad, give aid to rebels, give aid to Assad, give aid to Egypt to give to rebels and Assad. Keep Syria and it's proxy Iran tied up in this "war" for years to come.

Iran & Syria did the exact same thing to the US in Iraq. China does it to the US every day by skirting sanctions on North Korea, and not supporting sanctions on those that would attack us.

They foment the rage that leads to instability and chaos. Now they see the monster turn on them as they always do.

Posted by David at March 19, 2013 5:40 PM ET:

Is it possible for us to provide enough surveillance coverage of Syria, or at least the active battle zones, to detect missile launches from their plumes, and observe where they land? This kind of observation could decide such questions with certainty. If anyone were tempted to bomb his own people and blame the other side, this kind of surveillance would reveal the true culprit, and hopefully put an end to that practice.

Only 16 people dead, it sounds like there were no more casualties than in an ordinary high-explosive missile strike -- perhaps the chemicals weren't effective?
The NYT says that residents near the explosion reported a strong smell of chlorine. If Al Qaeda is rigging up crude chlorine warheads to put on top of some missiles, that might make sense, since the chemical weapons everyone says Syria has are nerve gas and mustard gas.

Posted by gb at March 19, 2013 6:46 PM ET:

Protect Israel, be patient and witness it all burn down, inside out..

Posted by irebukeu at March 19, 2013 7:47 PM ET:

Well If we apply Occam's razor we will come up empty on this being the work of the rat Bassar.If I had to guess and I'm doing it now, I would lay this on the anti-Syrian government forces as they stand to gain the most and lose the least.
For Bassar to have done this it would be him committing suicide.......
My guess is that this is a homemade chlorine attack done by rebels so that they can blame the much hated Bassar .
I wonder if the victims were Sunni or Alawite.

Posted by old timer at March 19, 2013 9:53 PM ET:

The USA has stated the use of chemical weapons is a red line that can't be crossed. If the US gov't is true to its word, it will be interesting to see the response, regardless of which side used chemical weapons.

Posted by HollyWood at March 20, 2013 12:35 AM ET:

I'm all about human rights no matter where you're from, but we've got troops in 2 long drawn out wars that we can't seem to get out of. Our Military in my opinion is reaching critical mass. Let's get out of the 2 wars we're already in before we start planning the other.

Posted by Pete at March 20, 2013 12:21 PM ET:

Reviewing some wiki articles on Al Anbar Province & Al Karmah specifically, I saw where Al Qaeda had a chlorine factory & had used chlorine in car bomb attacks to try to kill more people.

So I'll go with other people said. This was the insurgents & not Assad.

Posted by MarkisMT at March 20, 2013 12:35 PM ET:

Since this chemical weapon "red-line" has been made known to everyone by the administration, maybe some group is using an improvised chemical to try and lure the US into getting involved. Al Qaeda may want a new chaotic situation in which to attempt to kill US soldiers.

Posted by M.H at March 20, 2013 3:01 PM ET:

I think the regime of Assad used chemicals in order to effect the president visit to the Middle East and to create a propaganda.

Posted by Bob at March 21, 2013 7:57 AM ET:

I can't see Assad using a chemical weapon when Obama is in Israel. He heard the "red line" speech. he knows he can kill just as many rebels with a conventional rocket, and using chemical weaponry tarnishes his international view even more than the current opinion.

I remember reading an article a year or two back, when the rebellion was in its infancy, how rebels would purposely lead foreign journalists into a crossfire, or fire on them directly, in order to fabricate the brutality of the government.

Call me cynical, but I would bet this was the rebellion, probably Islamists bombing a secular group, then pointing the finger at the government. Two birds, one stone.

Posted by M.H at March 21, 2013 10:51 PM ET:

Bob,
Who was behind the Anbar chlorine attacks in Iraq? AQI.
Who was behind supporting AQI specially foreigner fighters? Assad` regime.
Did the Assad regime supported in anyway the chemical attacks in Iraq ( training, sheltering,planing, crossing)? A good question. I am not surprise if the master is using the disciples.

Posted by J House at March 22, 2013 1:43 PM ET:

There is no strategic of tactical advantage for Assad to use chemical weapons, as long as he is in control of them. Bill's comments about previous chlorine attacks by AQ lend credence to the possibility that it was similar in this case.
Assad knows that if he uses chemicals, NATO is coming and it will be the end....no strategic upside on that one.
Tactically, this isn't WW1 trench warfare, and the insurgents are spread too thin for any effective use of chemicals.
Assad may do it as a scorched earth policy, but that would still bring NATO and a hasty end to his regime.
The 'rebels' have more to gain than Assad at this point in the game.

Posted by sundoesntrise at March 24, 2013 6:20 PM ET:

From what I know about Assad's rocket and missile stockpiles, I would agree with Bob that he would not need to use chemical weapons. Yes, the rebels have captured multiple bases with many types of rockets and missiles that could cause serious harm. But in the army installations Assad still has, his forces have fired scores of SCUD missiles as well as medium to long range Iranian model missiles. They have an extensive arsenal of artillery, GRAD rockets, and other bombardment materiel.

Assad has noticed how the world doesn't care much about the conventional bombardments. Sure, there's a condemnation here and there, but he doesn't care about that. He just ignores it and continues about his business. He has nothing to gain from a chemical weapons attack right now.

I'm not going to accuse the rebels without any proof. But they have captured quite a few missiles and rockers from Assad's overrun bases. Maybe they loaded them up with chemical agents, and then attacked a general neighborhood so they could frame him? Assad is not stupid and he values holding onto power over anything else. He would not literally throw away his power like that, by using chemical weapons and inviting NATO to strike.