Chemical usage in Syria town remains mystery

Chemical usage in Syria town remains mystery

Chemical usage in Syria town remains mystery

Black smoke rises from a building due to government forces shelling in Aleppo. The opposition demanded an investigation into an alleged use of chemicals. AP photo

The alleged use of chemical weapons in northern Syria on March 19 remains a mystery as opponents and allies of the Syrian regime make contradictory remarks.

A senior Israeli official said yesterday that it is “apparently clear” that chemical weapons were recently used in Syria, and that the alleged attack will be a main topic of conversation with visiting U.S. President Barack Obama. “It is apparently clear that chemical weapons were used,” Yuval Steinitz, the newly appointed minister of intelligence and strategic affairs, said. “The fact they apparently used chemical weapons against civilians needs to worry us and shows the urgency of taking care of the issue,” he said. Steinitz, who was speaking to Army Radio, did not say how he came to the conclusion that the weapons were used. He would not comment on whether it was al-Assad forces or the rebels that used them, saying it was not important. 

No evidence: US

The U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, said the Obama administration has no evidence so far to support claims of chemical weapons use but is looking carefully at the conflicting reports. The Obama administration disputed that claim, and a U.S. official said there was no evidence that either al-Assad forces or the opposition had used chemical weapons. Ford said that an increasingly besieged al-Assad regime might be tempted to use the weapons.

Iran, Syria’s staunch ally, accused “armed opposition groups” in Syria of having used chemical weapons on the city of Aleppo, warning against a recurrence of such attacks. “The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly condemns the inhumane act by armed opposition groups in using chemical weapons in the city of Aleppo,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said. Syrian officials and media said 31 people had been killed in the attack and that around 100 more were injured. Russia, another al-Assad ally, said it had “information” from Damascus that rebels had used chemical weapons. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned March 19 that the use of chemical weapons by any party in Syria would “constitute an outrageous crime.”

The Syrian regime and rebels called March 20 for international investigations. State news agency SANA quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying “the government of the Syrian Arab Republic has requested that the secretary general of the U.N form a specialist technical mission that is independent and impartial to investigate the terrorist use of chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal.” The opposition National Coalition also urged a “full international investigation” into the attack.