March 19, 2013
Syrian rebels have used rockets containing chemical substances in the conflict, killing 16 people, says a Syrian news agency. Reports say most of the casualties killed in the attack in the flashpoint city of Aleppo were civilians.
“Terrorists fired a rocket containing chemical substances in the Khan al-Assal area of rural Aleppo and initial reports indicate that around 15 people were killed, most of them civilians,” SANA news agency said. This is the first time the Syrian government has accused opposition forces of using chemical weapons in the ongoing conflict.
Shortly after the incident Al-Arabiya wrote that regime forces had struck Khan al-Assal with SCUD missiles and cases of suffocation had been reported.
The Russian Embassy in Damascus told RT that it had received no reports on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Fears that Syria’s chemical weapons could fall into militant hands have been a source of constant concern for the international community over the past few months. The US and the UN have repeatedly warned President Bashar Assad’s government against deploying its own chemical arms stockpile.
Damascus maintains that it would never use such weapons against its own people, but would consider their deployment if threatened by outside forces.
Reports that Syrian rebels had seized control of a number of chemical weapons depots in the Aleppo province emerged on Sunday.
“Opposition fighters gained control over weapons and ammunition stores in the village of Khan Toman in southern Aleppo province on Saturday after fierce fighting that went on for more than three days,” an anonymous military source told AFP. Reports of the weapons seizure came after days of brutal clashes between opposition and government forces.
The source said the rebels only managed to steal a few crates containing ammunition, as a large part of the weapons stockpile had been transferred out of the facility. Activists disputed this, maintaining that rebels had taken control of “huge reserves.” A video posted online showed fighters looking over crates of weapons and ammunition, and claimed the attack was mounted by opposition group the Martyrs of Syria.
UK-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the attack, but did not mention chemical weapons among the arms that were reportedly seized by the rebels.