BEIRUT

Alleged attacks spotlight Syria’s chemical arsenal again

Syrian government forces have attacked rebel-held areas with poisonous chlorine gas in recent weeks and months, leaving men, women and children coughing, choking and gasping for breath, according to Associated Press interviews with more than a dozen activists, medics and residents on the opposition side.

Syria flatly denied the allegations, and they have yet to be confirmed by any foreign country or international organization. But if true, they highlight the limitations of the global effort to rid President Bashar Assad’s government of its chemical weapons.

Witnesses near Damascus and in a central rebel-held village told the AP of dozens of cases of choking, fainting and other afflictions from inhaling fumes that some said were yellowish and smelled like chlorine cleanser. Some of those interviewed said they believe the gas was responsible for at least two deaths.

They said the fumes came from hand grenades and helicopter-dropped “barrel bombs,” which are crude containers packed with explosives and shrapnel.

Activists have posted videos similar, though on a far smaller scale, to those from last August’s chemical weapons attack near Damascus that killed hundreds of people and nearly triggered U.S. airstrikes against Syria.

The U.N. Security Council called for an investigation Wednesday.

CANBERRA, Australia

Officials: Debris on shore not from missing plane

Australian officials said Thursday that after examining detailed photographs of unidentified material that washed ashore in the southwestern part of the country they are satisfied it is not a clue in the search for the missing Malaysian plane.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has advised search coordinators that the material, which washed ashore 6 miles east of Augusta in Western Australia, is not from missing Flight 370, according to a statement from the Joint Agency Coordination Centre.

Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the safety bureau, told The Associated Press Wednesday that an initial analysis of the material – which appeared to be sheet metal with rivets – suggested it was not from the plane.

– From news service reports