News Column

More Syria Chemical Attacks Claimed

August 5, 2013

Syrian opposition activists Monday accused government forces of using chemical weapons on rebel-held areas near the capital Damascus, days after the United Nations said a team of chemical weapons investigators would head to Syria as soon as possible.

The head of the Britain-based pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, quoted activists as saying that at least 30 rebel fighters showed signs of exposure to poison gas in Adra, north-east of Damascus.

Activists said regime forces used the gas as they tried to enter the rebel strongholds over the past two days.

Dozens of people from Adra were hospitalized, suffering from vomiting, shortness of breath and convulsions, they added.

Videos posted online purported to show people in a hospital in nearby Douma wheezing, choking and convulsing.

In July, representatives of the UN mission tasked with investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria visited the country to negotiate the terms of inspection.

The UN and Syria said they had reached agreement on a "way forward" for verifying the issue.

Last week, the UN said Syria had given a green light for the mission to investigate three sites, including Khan al-Assal, a town where the Syrian government claims opposition forces used chemical weapons in March.

A team of inspectors had been ready since April to enter Syria, but Damascus insisted on restrictions on their mission, which the UN rejected.

The other two locations for the investigation have not been disclosed.

Louay al-Mokdad, spokesman of the Free Syrian Army, expressed concern over the incident.

"We have warned before that the regime is using weapons that are forbidden internationally. This regime has no boundaries," he said.

The opposition National Coalition called on the UN team to investigate the Adra incident, expressing its readiness to cooperate with the commission in securing and collecting evidence.

"The lives of thousands of Syrians are in danger amid continued international silence while Syrian people are killed by weapons of mass destruction," the coalition said in a statement.

Earlier Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Syrian government forces had repeatedly attacked civilian areas with ballistic missiles, causing heavy casualties.

The most recent attack HRW investigated, in Aleppo governorate on July 26, killed at least 33 civilians, including 17 children, the US-based rights group said.

It investigated nine apparent ballistic missile attacks on populated areas in recent months that killed a total of 215 people, including 100 children.

In seven of the nine cases there was no apparent military target nearby, the group said.

"The repeated use of these high-explosive weapons with wide-area effects in areas populated by civilians strongly suggests that the military willfully used methods of warfare incapable of distinguishing between civilians and combatants, a serious violation of international humanitarian law," HRW said.

Meanwhile, state television reported that Syrian Defence Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij toured the former rebel stronghold of Khalidiyeh district in the central city of Homs and inspected army units there.

The area fell to regime forces a week ago after being held by rebels for a year and a half.

Al-Freij's visit came a day after President Bashar al-Assad said that "an iron fist" was needed to deal with rebels.

"I do not think that anyone sensible believes that terrorism can be dealt with politically," al-Assad told guests at a Ramadan meal.

"Perhaps politics can play a role before it takes root ... but once terrorism appears and starts wrecking and killing and destroying and spreading, there is no solution but to strike it with an iron fist."

More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria's 28-month war, according to the United Nations.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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