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Factions in Syria exchange blame for new gas attack

Scores reported injured in Hama province village

BEIRUT — Syrian government media and rebel forces said Saturday that poison gas had been used in a central village, blaming each other for an attack that reportedly injured scores of people.

Details of the attack Friday in Kfar Zeita, a village in Hama province some 125 miles north of Damascus, remained sketchy Saturday night.

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But online videos posted by rebel activists showed pale-faced men, women, and children gasping for breath at a field hospital, suggesting an affliction by some kind of poison in a conflict that has seen hundreds killed by chemical weapons.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said the attack hurt dozens of people, though it did not identify the gas used.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that relies on a network of on-the-ground volunteers, said the gas attack happened during air raids that left heavy smoke over the area. It reported that people suffered from suffocation and breathing problems after the attack, but gave no further details.

State-run Syrian television blamed members of the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front for using what it described as chlorine gas in an attack it said killed two people and injured more than 100. The TV report claimed the rebel group is preparing for another chemical attack against the Wadi Deif area in the northern province of Idlib, as well as another area in Hama.

Activists in the village could not be reached Saturday.

An activist from Hama who is currently in Turkey and is in contact with residents said the attack occurred around sunset Friday. The man, who goes by the name Amir al-Basha, said the air raids on the rebel-held village came as nearby areas including Morek and Khan Sheikhoun have witnessed intense clashes between troops and opposition fighters.

Chemical weapons have been used before in Syria’s three-year-old conflict, a war which activists say has killed more than 150,000 people.

In August, a chemical attack near the capital, Damascus, killed hundreds of people. The United States and its allies blamed the Syrian government for that attack, which nearly sparked Western airstrikes against President Bashar Assad’s forces. Damascus denied the charges and accused rebels of staging the incident.

Meanwhile, violence continued Saturday elsewhere in Syria. In the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest and one-time commercial center, the Observatory and state television reported intense clashes, mostly near a main intelligence office in the city’s contested neighborhood of Zahra.

Syrian state news agency SANA reported earlier Saturday that several mortar shells hit the government-held neighborhoods of Hamidiyeh and Khaldiyeh, killing at least six people and wounding 15.

Aleppo became a key front in the country’s civil war after rebels launched an offensive there in July 2012.

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