Both sides have called for an investigation. The Syrian Opposition Coalition said Wednesday it wants a “full international inquiry” into what it has alleged was government use of chemical weapons near the city of Aleppo.
At the United Nations, Syria’s representative asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to send a technical team to Syria to conduct an investigation into the government’s claim that the rebels used chemical weapons.
The attack killed at least two dozen people. If confirmed as a chemical weapons attack, it would mark the first use of chemical arms and a major escalation in Syria’s two-year-old conflict. The United States has warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that a chemical attack would be a “red line” that would trigger a U.S. military response, but it is also is expressing deep skepticism about the reports of such an attack Tuesday.
There was no independent confirmation that either Assad’s government or the rebels had used chemical weapons.
On Tuesday, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said rebels fired “a rocket containing poison gases” at the town of Khan al-Assal, southwest of Aleppo, from a part of the city they control. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said 25 people were killed and 86 injured in the attack. Rebels, in turn, accused forces loyal to Assad of firing a Scud missile containing deadly chemicals.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 26 people died in the attack, including 16 soldiers. But the observatory’s director, who uses the pseudonym Rami Abdulrahman, said he could only “confirm that there was a rocket attack but not that any chemicals were used.”
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the allegations were being studied. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland characterized the Syrian claim as an attempt to discredit the opposition and said the United States has no evidence that rebels have chemical weapons capabilities.
A senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the reports were preliminary, said U.S. officials think the Syrian government has retained control over its chemical weapons supplies.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that there is a “high probability” that Syria has used chemical weapons in the war, but that final verification is needed.
Photos posted online by SANA showed alleged victims in hospital beds flanked by medical staff in surgical masks. State television featured an interview with an elderly man wearing a face mask and a white bandage on his forehead. “They fired a missile, and it exploded with something like a powder,” the man said.