Regime, FSA Trade Chemical Attack Charges

March 20, 2013

By Ahmed Kwider

While opposition sources agree that attacks and casualties occurred both in Otaybah and Khan al-Asal, there was no consensus Wednesday that chemical warfare agents were embedded in the weaponry deployed and some reports describe characterize the material used as poison gas.

The Syrian government and opposition traded accusations Tuesday that chemical weapons had been used in two separate attacks in Outer Damascus and in the Aleppo area.

The first allegation surfaced around 11 AM Syria time Tuesday with a Local Coordination Council in Outer Damascus claiming many injuries as result of chemical missiles. This account was first posted online by the Eastern Ghota Media Office.

The opposition report claimed rockets with chemical agents had caused nausea, vomiting, and headaches among the population of Otaybah with no numbers provided of injured or fatalities.

As doctors and journalists spoke to victims, a different account emerged.

“This was not a chemical attack but rather a poison gas attack,” said Salam Mohammed, a correspondent for Sham News in Outer Damascus.

“The regime used Grad missiles in yesterday's attack on Otaybah,” said Mohammed, a former solider in the 155th Division, which is tasked with Scud rocket deployment in the Syrian Army.

CHEMICAL"Syrian forces used rocket-launchers to fire rockets carrying poisonous materials," said Omar Hamza, a spokesman for the Revolutionary Leadership Council in Outer Damascus. Five people were killed, he said. 

Sham News Network reported two Scud launches by the 155th Brigade towards northern Syria Wednesday morning.

“The only rockets the regime has loaded with chemical weapons are Scuds and the surface-to-surface missiles used in Outer Damascus yesterday were a different type of weapon,” explained Mohammed.

“The victims who survived were choking and those who died, did so slowly, again proving that his was phosphate poison gas and not chemical,” he said.

Doctors at the Otaybah Civil Hospital concurred with Mohammed’s assessment in a video posted by the same opposition media office that first made the chemical weapons allegation.

Later Tuesday, the state-run news agency SANA reported: “Terrorists on Tuesday launched a rocket containing chemical materials on Khan al-Asal." The agency said that 25 were killed and 110 injured when a missile was launched from the Kfar Dael region into Khan al-Asal at 730 AM Syria time.

SANA posted photos of injured civilians hospitalized in unidentified “Aleppo area” medical facilities.

Khan al-Asl is a majority Shiite town that has supported the regime from the beginning of the revolution, said opposition Sham News Network correspondent Majid Abul Nur, based in Aleppo. He charged the regime with firing the missile "in order to be able to say that terrorists used it against Shiites in Khan al-Asl."

In letters sent from the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the UN Security Council and Secretary General Ban Ki- Moon, the government said that “the missile fell in a region populated by civilians on a 300m-distance from the post of the Syrian Arab army soldiers."

In a statement released late Tuesday, the Free Syrian Army denied the use of any chemical weapons in the Aleppo area.

Additional reporting by Jacob Wirtschafter.