Syria, rebels accuse each other of chemical attacks

DAMASCUS — Syria’s government and rebels traded accusations Tuesday of a chemical attack on a northern village for the first time in the civil war, although the United States said there was no evidence it had happened.

The use of such weapons would be a nightmare scenario in the two-year-old conflict that has killed an estimated 70,000 people, and the competing accusations showed a willingness by both sides to go to new levels to seek support from world powers.

One of the international community’s biggest concerns is that Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons could be used by one side or the other, or could fall into the hands of foreign jihadi fighters among the rebels or the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is allied with the regime of President Bashar Assad.


President Obama has declared the use, deployment, or transfer of the weapons would be a ‘‘red line’’ for possible military intervention by the United States in the Syrian conflict.

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The accusations emerged only a few hours after the Syrian opposition elected a prime minister to head an interim government that would rule areas seized by rebel forces from the Assad regime.

The state-run SANA news agency said ‘‘a missile containing a chemical substance’’ was fired at the village of Khan al-Assal in Aleppo Province by ‘‘terrorists’’ — the term it uses for rebels. Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad said 31 people were killed.

SANA added that more than 100 others were wounded, some of them critically, and it published pictures showing casualties, including children, on stretchers in what appears to be a hospital ward. None showed signs of physical injuries.

‘‘It is another crime to be added to the record of armed terrorist groups that are supported by some Arab countries and Western countries,’’ Mekdad told reporters in Damascus.


To back up its assertions of a chemical attack by the rebels, SANA pointed to videos posted on YouTube several months ago that purported to show regime opponents experimenting with poisons on mice and rabbits. The origin of the videos was not known. The rebels quickly denied using chemical weapons and accused regime forces of doing so.

Major General Adnan Sillu, who was previously among those in charge of Syria’s chemical weapons training program before he defected to Turkey last year, accused the Assad government of firing a chemical weapon. ‘‘Only the regime has long-range missiles capable of handling chemical agents,’’ he said in comments to Arab broadcaster Al Arabiya.

The head of Syria’s main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, said the group was still investigating the attack. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists in the country, said a rocket attack on Khan al-Assal killed at least 26 people. The group’s director, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said he had no information that chemical weapons were involved and said the rocket landed near a military installation.