Monday, March 10, 2014
The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
"The Syrian Army achieved major progress in the past days and for that reason, the terrorist groups used chemical weapons as their last card," state TV said. The government refers to rebels fighting to topple Assad as "terrorists."
The report was followed by an unusual string of breaking alerts on the TV's news scroll Saturday, with a series of claims related to the alleged use of chemical arms by rebels in Jobar.
One message cited a Syrian TV journalist who is embedded with the troops in the district who said the army confiscated an arms cache that included gas masks and several barrels with "made in Saudi Arabia" stamped on them. It did not say what was in the barrels, but appeared to suggest that some sort of chemical agent was inside and supplied by Saudi Arabia, the region's Sunni Muslim power and a staunch supporter of Syria's Sunni-led revolt.
Another news scroll said that troops, after overrunning rebel positions, received antidotes following exposure to chemical agents. The TV said the medicines were produced by a Qatari-German medical supplies company. Qatar is another strong supporter of the Syrian rebels. The report could not be immediately verified.
State TV also broadcast images of a Syrian army officer, wearing a surgical mask, telling reporters wearing similar masks that soldiers were subjected to poisonous attack in Jobar. He spoke inside the depot where the alleged confiscated products were placed.
"Our troops did not suffer body wounds," the officer said. "I believe terrorist groups used special substances that are poisonous in an attempt to affect this advance."
The Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV, that has a reporter embedded with the troops in the area, said some 50 soldiers were rushed to Damascus hospitals for treatment and that it was not yet known what type of gas the troops were subjected too.
For days, the government has been trying to counter rebel allegations that the regime used chemical weapons on civilians in rebel-held areas of eastern Damascus, arguing that opposition fighters themselves were responsible for that attack.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius dismissed the Syrian government line.
"All the information we have is converging to indicate there was a chemical massacre in Syria, near Damascus, and that Bashar Assad's regime was behind it," Fabius told reporters during a visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah. He did not elaborate.
France has suggested that force could be used against Syria if Assad's regime was proven to have used chemical arms.
The new talk of potential military action in Syria has made an independent investigation by U.N. inspectors critical to determine what exactly transpired.
The U.N. experts already in Syria are tasked with investigating three earlier purported chemical attacks in the country: one in the village of Khan al-Assal outside the northern city of Aleppo in March, as well as two other locations that have been kept secret for security reasons.
It took months of negotiations between the U.N. and Damascus before an agreement was struck to allow the 20-member team into Syria to investigate. Its mandate is limited to those three sites, however, and it is only charged with determining whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them.
Leaders of the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group on Saturday vowed retaliation for the alleged chemical weapons attack.
From Istanbul, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Al-Jarba, also criticized the lack of response to the attack by the United Nations and the international community, saying that the UN was discrediting itself.
"It does not reach the ethical and legal response that Syrians expect. As a matter of fact we can describe it as a shame," he said.