WASHINGTON – Inconclusive reports surfaced Tuesday in Syria of a new chemical attack in a town near the Turkish border, demonstrating how complex the issue can be.

The news came out of Saraqib, a town of 30,000 about 20 miles from the border in northern Syria. The area has seen clashes between Syrian rebels and regime forces for the past year. This time, at least one person died and dozens were injured after, reports from both sides say, people were attacked with a white powder.

Mufid Abu Sa’ir, 32, who said he works as a medical aide in Saraqib, said he saw what took place when opposition fighters were attacking a nearby government base.

“I was watching from about 2 kilometers (more than 1 mile) away,” he said. “A helicopter went up and dropped white bags like balloons, with a weight in them, on the southwestern area of town.”

Sa’ir was interviewed at a hospital in Reyhanli, Turkey, where many of those sickened were taken for treatment. The hospital declined to provide details.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, claimed that what took place was an attempt by “terrorist groups” to frame the Syrian regime. According to news accounts, he said the attackers “spread seemingly the contents of plastic bags containing a kind of powder, which must be most probably a chemical material.”

Chemical weapons experts said that based on the reports, it was difficult to know what the chemical might have been. They said there is no lethal agent that works as a white powder. If the descriptions are correct, they said a number of irritants might fit: phosgene oxime, which can burn the skin and irritate the eyes; adamsite, a World War I-era weapon that causes vomiting but is considered obsolete; and a version of tear gas.

Richard Guthrie, a British chemical weapons expert, noted that “dropping powder in plastic bags is a really inefficient delivery system.”