In the week where Mars transits Uranus in Aries the rhetoric out of Syria has escalated to a very new level. Both sides of 2 year war are claiming that chemicals weapons have now been used in the conflict. We will learn if it is true or not in the coming days but by all accounts if this is true a red line will have been crossed. What happens when Mars Squares Pluto next week? We will see.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Syrian government and Syrian rebels traded accusations about a lethal attack in the northern province of Aleppo on Tuesday, in which each side in the country’s two-year-old conflict said the other had used chemical weapons.
But neither side presented clear documentation, and two American officials said there was no evidence to suggest that any chemical weapons had been used. A Defense Department official said the claim should be treated with caution, if not outright skepticism.
The first report came from the Syrian state news agency, SANA, which reported that terrorists, its term for armed rebels, had fired a rocket “containing chemical materials” into the Khan al-Assal area of Aleppo Province, killing 16 people and wounding 86. It later raised the death toll to 25.
The news agency displayed photographs of what it said were the victims, but there was no indication in the photographs that they had suffered a chemical attack, like burns or skin discoloration or quarantine measures.
A senior rebel commander and spokesman, Qassem Saadeddine, later accused the government of using chemical weapons in the attack, citing reports of breathing difficulties and bluish skin among victims, but admitted that the reports were secondhand and that he could not provide documentation.
Another rebel commander, Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, head of the rebel military council in Aleppo, said in a telephone interview that he had witnessed the attack, describing it as an errant strike on a government-controlled neighborhood by Syrian warplanes flying at high altitude. He said the explosions from the attack emitted what he described as a gas that appeared to cause suffocation, and that some victims had been treated in a rebel field hospital.
The commander ridiculed government assertions that the rebels had chemical weapons. “We don’t even have ammunition for our Kalashnikovs,” he said.
Each side in Syria’s conflict has an incentive to accuse the other of using chemical weapons. President Obama has said that a chemical attack by President Bashar al-Assad’s government would cross a “red line” that could prompt military intervention by the United States.
The Syrian government seeks to portray its opponents as extremists who are a threat to regional stability. Israel has said it would intervene to prevent chemical weapons from falling into the hands of either the rebels or Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group allied with the Syrian government. Use or seizure of chemical weapons by rebel forces would embarrass the United States, particularly now, as President Obama has declared he will not oppose allied efforts to provide them with military aid.
Rebel factions have accused the government of using chemical weapons many times, with no confirmed cases. The term “chemical weapons” has sometimes appeared to be used loosely to include not just deadly nerve agents like sarin gas but also tear gas and other nonlethal irritants used for crowd control.
The Foreign Ministry of Russia, Mr. Assad’s most powerful international backer, indicated that it was taking the government’s claim seriously, calling the supposed use of chemical weapons by the opposition an “extremely dangerous development” and a new reason to refocus energy on finding a political solution to the conflict.
A Syrian official told state television that the Aleppo attack would be reported to human rights organizations and to countries that support the rebels.
A Reuters photographer was quoted in a report by the news agency as saying that he had visited victims in Aleppo hospitals and that they had breathing problems.
“I saw mostly women and children,” said the photographer, who Reuters said it could not identify out of concern for his safety. “They said that people were suffocating in the streets and the air smelled strongly of chlorine.”
Rebels have long tried, without success, to overrun a weapons plant near Safira, in Aleppo Province, where chemical weapons are believed to be stored. The Syrian government said in December that rebels had plundered supplies of chlorine gas, but the government’s stores are believed by American officials to consist of other types of chemical weapons.
An Obama administration official said the White House had “no information suggesting opposition groups have chemical weapons capability.”