Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Syrian Rebels Accuse Government of Chemical Attack - New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Anti-government activists accused the Syrian government of pounding areas east of the city with rockets carrying poisoned gas early Wednesday, filling local hospitals with the dead and wounded.

Amateur videos posted online showed men and children sprawled out on hospital beds and on tile floors, some not moving, while others were being treated by medics with hand-pump respirators.

Unlike the videos often uploaded after government attacks, these showed very little blood, as few of the patients appeared to have blunt injuries. The videos also showed very few women, although activists claimed that women were among the victims.

The attacks came the day after a team sent to Syria by the United Nations to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use was to begin working. Numerous allegations of chemical weapons use have surfaced during the civil war between the forces of President Bashar al-Assad and rebels seeking his ouster, but none have been verified by outside bodies.

After months of negotiation with the Syrian government on access to the country, the United Nations said its team would investigate three sites, including the village of Khan al-Assal near the northern city of Aleppo, where both sides accuse the other of an alleged chemical attack on March 19 that killed dozens of people.

The location of the other two sites has not been made public, and the United Nations team has said it will only seek to determine if chemical weapons were used, not to determine who used them.

It was unclear whether the team would investigate the new alleged attack. It issued no immediate comment.

Syrian state news media did not report on the allegations of the Wednesday attack.

An activist reached in the Damascus suburb of Erbeen via Skype said the attack began at 2 a.m. when rockets struck surrounding areas. He and his colleagues rushed to evacuate the wounded, and they had to break down doors of homes to get them out.

"I saw many children lying on beds as if they were sleeping, but unfortunately they were dead," said the activist, who gave his name as Abu Yassin, adding that he believed the number of dead was in the hundreds.

"We thought this regime would not use chemical weapons, at least these days with the presence of the U.N. inspectors," he said. "It is reckless. The regime is saying, 'I don't care.'"

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which follows the conflict from Britain through a network of contacts inside Syria, said tens of people were killed in the attacks on the suburbs of Zamalka, Ein Terma and Erbeen, all of which are east of Damascus and have a strong rebel presence.

The group cited local activists as saying that the rockets had spread poisoned gas and called on the United Nations and other organizations to investigate the attacks and hold those responsible accountable under international law.

The issue of chemical weapons is particularly significant because last year President Obama said their use would represent a "red line" that could lead to American military action. American officials in June said they believed that President Bashar al-Assad's forces had used chemical weapons "on a small scale" several times in the last year, but that did not lead to a substantive change to American involvement in the conflict. Russia, which has strongly backed Mr. Assad, last month accused rebel fighters of using the weapons in Khan al-Assal.


http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&usg=AFQjCNEW9F7tBRd-bpW1bx2YOV8HGWDxww&url=http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/22/world/middleeast/syria.html
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