March 19, 2013

Syria regime claims rebel chemical attack kills 25

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The White House says it has no evidence to back up the Syrian government's claim that 25 people have been killed in an alleged rebel chemical attack in northern Syria.

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In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian victim who suffered an alleged chemical attack at Khan al-Assal village receives treatment by doctors at a hospital in Aleppo on Tuesday.

AP

Rebels in northern Syria deny the government claim and blamed regime forces for Tuesday's missile attack on Khan al-Assad village in northern Aleppo province.

SANA says 86 people were wounded, some in critical condition. It published pictures showing casualties, including children, on stretchers in what appears to be a hospital ward.

They say victims were taken to a hospital in a government-controlled area in Aleppo.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says the U.S. is looking carefully at allegations that both sides are using chemical weapons. But he says he's skeptical of any claims made by the Syrian regime.

Carney says it's a serious concern for the U.S. that the Assad regime could use such weapons. He says President Barack Obama believes that would be unacceptable and that there would be consequences.

Russia, which has steadfastly supported Bashar Assad in Syria's two-year civil war, backed Assad's assertion Tuesday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the rebel use of chemical weapons represented an "extremely dangerous" development in a conflict that has already killed 70,000 people. It said the rebels detonated a munition containing an unidentified chemical agent, but didn't give further details.

Syria has one of the world's largest arsenals of chemical weapons and Washington has been on high alert since last year for any possible use or transfer of chemical weapons by Assad's forces. It feared that an increasingly desperate regime might turn to the stockpiles in a bid to defeat the rebellion or transfer dangerous agents to militant groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, which the Syrian government has long supported.

At the time, officials noted movement of some of the Syrian stockpiles but said none appeared to be deployed for imminent use. Still, President Barack Obama declared the use, deployment or transfer of the weapons to be his "red line" for possible military intervention in the Arab country.

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