As Western powers pressed the Syrian authorities to permit United Nations inspectors to examine the site of a claimed poison gas attack outside Damascus, France said on Thursday that outside powers should respond “with force” if the use of chemical weapons was confirmed.
Survivors from what activists say was a chemical weapons attack at a mosque on Wednesday in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus. More Photos »
At the same time, Israel said its intelligence assessments pointed to the use of chemical weapons.
“According to our intelligence assessments there was use of chemical weapons,” the Israeli minister of strategic and intelligence affairs and international relations, Yuval Steinitz, told Israel Radio, “and this of course was not for the first time.”
Mr. Steinitz did not specifically accuse the government of President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons on Wednesday, but in the past Israel has frequently accused pro-Assad forces of using weapons from its large stockpiles of such munitions.
“Two Syrian pro-opposition groups are claiming that dozens of people were killed Wednesday in a poisonous gas attack near Damascus” that they’re blaming on government forces, NPR’s Jean Cochran reported earlier this morning on our Newscast.
“The reports have not been independently confirmed,” Jean added, and President Bashar Assad’s regime says the claims are “baseless.”
Reuters is leading its report this way: “Syrian activists accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of launching a nerve gas attack that killed at least 213 people on Wednesday, in what would, if confirmed, be by far the worst reported use of poison gas in the two-year-old civil war.”
This news comes as a U.N. team is in Syria to investigate earlier alleged uses of chemical weapons.
The BBC’s Naomi Grimley adds that opposition groups have released “distressing pictures [that] show children lying limp in the arms of adults” and adults being hosed down, allegedly to wash away chemicals. But, she says, those images haven’t been independently verified.
The Syrian government seized control Wednesday of the town of Qusair, state television and opposition activists said, a significant strategic advance for President Bashar al-Assad’s forces as they are bolstered by Lebanese militants.
For over a fortnight the city has been the scene of a grinding battle as rebels, penned in on all sides, attempted to repel the advance of pro-government forces. But on Wednesday, Syrian state television said “heroic” armed forces had restored stability to the town.
Control of Qusair, just six miles over the Lebanese border, is an essential cog in the government effort to regain a grip on central Syria. Fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, adept in street warfare, have been backing Assad’s troops in battle.
As state television broadcast footage of a soldier hoisting a Syrian flag emblazoned with Assad’s face over a clock tower in the town centre, the opposition conceded defeat.
A rebel military commander in Syria is reported to have been wounded by a bomb blast in Deir al-Zour province.
Activists said a device exploded next to a car in which Col Riad al-Asaad, long head of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), was travelling in Mayadeen.
There were conflicting reports about his fate, but an FSA spokesman told BBC Arabic that he had lost a leg.
Col Asaad once led the armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, but his position was gradually superseded.
A policy officer at the European Union’s delegation in Syria was killed in a rocket attack on a Damascus suburb on Tuesday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Wednesday.
Ahmad Shihadeh was killed while giving humanitarian help to people in the suburb of Deraya, where he lived, Ashton said in a statement.
“I call again on all sides to take urgent steps to end the violence, which has led to the deaths of some 100,000 innocent citizens and over one million refugees seeking shelter in neighboring countries,” Ashton said.
The EU withdrew international staff from its office in Damascus last December because of the worsening violence in Syria, which has been torn by a two-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Local staff remained in Syria but are not going to the EU delegation, which is temporarily closed, an EU official said.
Now that its confirmed by a high ranking Syrian officer I wonder what the world reaction will be after Assad has gone over that ‘red line’.
The head of Syria’s military police defected to the opposition, accusing the Assad regime of systematic ‘murder’ and claiming that reports of chemical weapons being used against rebels in the restive city of Homs were true.
Maj-Gen Abdul-Aziz Jassim al-Shallal became one of the highest ranking Syrian military officers to throw their support behind the rebels, accusing forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of turning their weapons on innocent civilians in the now 22-month-long civil war.
‘I declare my defection from the army because of its deviation from its fundamental mission to protect the nation and [its] transformation into gangs of murder and destruction,’ he said in a video message posted online, reportedly from the Turkish border.
He accused the military of ‘destroying cities and villages and committing massacres against our innocent people who came out to demand freedom.’ General Shallal suggested in his message that he had been working with the opposition for some time before he formally defected to the rebel cause.
He becomes the latest in a string of leading military advisers to abandon the government and join the disparate rebels. But it is his claim that chemical weapons were used in Homs during a deadly attack on Christmas Eve that is likely to be of greater interest to the Syrian opposition and their foreign backers.
Reports from Homs had suggested that a type of nerve agent was used by the Syrian forces in the attack, a point that General Shallal appeared to verify yesterday. Al Jazeera reported at the time that at least seven people had died after inhaling a poisonous gas ‘sprayed by government forces in a rebel-held Homs neighbourhood’.
‘We don’t know what this gas is but medics are saying it’s something similar to sarin gas,’ Raji Rahmet Rabbou, an activist in Homs, told Al Jazeera.
It is not clear that the substance used in Homs was banned by international law, even the though the General yesterday specifically referred to a ‘chemical weapons’ attack. Nonetheless, the use of non-conventional weapons is considered a ‘red line’ by some in the international community who have been reluctant to intervene directly.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of resorting to chemical weapons after seven people died from poisonous gas fumes in an assault on Homs.
Assad’s forces sprayed the al-Bayyada rebel-held neighbourhood in the western Syrian city with a poisonous gas similar to the lethal sarin, local activists told Al-Jazeera.
“The situation is very difficult. We do not have enough facemasks. We don’t know what this gas is but medics are saying it’s something similar to sarin gas,” Raji Rahmet Rabbou, an activist in Homs, told the Qatar-based television channel.
According to Al-Jazeera dozens of people were injured in the gas attack and reported nausea, loss of muscle use, blurred vision and breathing difficulties.
Such symptoms are similar to those caused by sarin, a gas the UN has classified as a weapon of mass destruction.