‘Red line’ Suffocating in the streets: Chemical weapons attack reported in Syria

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
By Paul Martin

March 19, 2013

DAMASCUS – Syria’s government and rebels accused each other of launching a deadly chemical attack near the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday in what would, if confirmed, be the first use of such weapons in the two-year-old conflict. Syria’s state news agency SANA said the rebels had launched a missile, while the rebels said the government had fired a long-range missile with “chemical agents. Terrorists fired a rocket containing chemical substances in the Khan al-Assal area of rural Aleppo,” SANA said. A Reuters photographer visited two hospitals and saw people with breathing problems, who told him that they saw people dying in the streets and that the air smelled strongly of chlorine. U.S. President Barack Obama, who has resisted overt military intervention in Syria’s civil war, has warned Assad that any use of chemical weapons would be a “red line.” A spokeswoman for Britain’s Foreign Office said it was aware of the reports, adding that the use of chemical weapons, if proven, would “demand a serious response from the international community and force us to revisit our approach so far.” Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi put the death toll at 16 and said 86 people were wounded, most of them critically. In a televised news conference, he said the country’s armed forces would never use internationally banned weapons. “Syria’s army leadership has stressed this before and we say it again, if we had chemical weapons we would never use them due to moral, humanitarian and political reasons,” Zoabi said. However, a Syrian rebel commander denied the reports, insisting the government had fired the rocket during intense fighting in the area. “We were hearing reports from early this morning about a regime attack on Khan al-Assal, and we believe they fired a Scud with chemical agents,” Qassim Saadeddine, a senior rebel and spokesman for the Higher Military Council in Aleppo, said. “Then suddenly we learned that the regime was turning these reports against us. The rebels were not behind this attack,” he added. The Reuters photographer, who visited the University of Aleppo hospital and the al-Rajaa hospital in Aleppo city, said he saw patients who were suffering from breathing problems. “I saw mostly women and children,” he said. “They said that people were suffocating in the streets and the air smelt strongly of chlorine. People were dying in the streets and in their houses,” he added. Syrian state TV aired footage of what it said were casualties of the attack arriving at one hospital in Aleppo. Men, women and children were rushed inside on stretchers as doctors inserted medical drips into their arms and oxygen tubes into their mouths. None had visible wounds to their bodies, but some interviewed said they had trouble breathing. Three boys lay on the floor beside each other with drips in their arms. One man was taken from an ambulance wearing combat trousers. An unidentified doctor interviewed on the channel said the attack was either “phosphorus or poison.” -MSNBC

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