Syrian rebels, government report poison gas attack

April 12

— Syrian government media and rebel forces exchanged accusations Saturday over an alleged poison gas attack on a village that reportedly injured scores of people. Details about the attack in Kfar Zeita, a village in Hama province about 125 miles north of Damascus, remained sketchy Saturday night.

Online videos posted by rebel activists showed pale-faced men, women and children gasping for breath at a field hospital, suggesting an affliction by some kind of poison in a conflict that’s seen hundreds killed by chemical weapons.

The main Western-backed rebel group, the Syrian Opposition Coalition, said the poison gas attack hurt dozens of people, although it did not identify the gas used.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that relies on a network of on-the-ground volunteers, said the gas attack happened during air raids that left heavy smoke over the area. It reported that people suffered from suffocation and breathing problems after the attack but gave no further details.

State-run Syrian television blamed members of the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group for using what it described as chlorine gas. The report said that two people were killed and more than 100 were injured in the attack. The TV report claimed Jabhat al-Nusra is preparing for another chemical attack against the Wadi Deif area in the northern province of Idlib, as well as another area in Hama. The government station did not explain how it knew the rebel group’s plans.

Activists in the village could not be reached Saturday, but an activist from Hama who is in Turkey and in contact with residents said that the attack occurred around sunset Friday. The man, who goes by the name Amir al-Basha, said the air raids on the rebel-held village came as nearby areas, including Morek and Khan Sheikhoun, have witnessed intense clashes between troops and opposition fighters.

Chemical weapons have been used before in Syria’s three-year-old conflict, a war that activists say has killed more than 150,000 people.

In August, a chemical attack near the capital, Damascus, killed hundreds of people. The United States and its allies blamed the Syrian government for that attack, which nearly sparked Western airstrikes against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Damascus denied the charges and accused rebels of staging the incident.

The chemical weapons attack in August caused an international outcry. A coalition aims to remove and destroy 1,300 metric tons of chemicals held by the Assad government by June 30. Syria’s government missed a Dec. 31 deadline to remove the most dangerous chemicals in its stockpile and a Feb. 5 deadline to give up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons. Assad’s government cited security concerns and the lack of some equipment but has said it remains fully committed to the process.

Two car bombs cause scores of casualties in Syrian town of Homs. (Reuters)

Associated Press

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