Both Sides Allege New Chemical Weapon Attack in Syria
A deadly gas not on the list of chemical weapons Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was made to relinquish to the international community last year was used twice in a northern Syrian village this weekend, prompting accusations that both the government and the Syrian opposition used the gas on civilians.
Reuters reports that Syrian opposition members have begun posting videos and photographs of civilians after being attacked with chlorine gas, a deadly agent not widely used in war since World War I. Reuters notes it could not independently confirm that the images proved chlorine gas was used, and that the Syrian government is accusing the opposition of having introduced the agent to the war.
The attack occurred in Kfar Zeita, a village currently out of the control of the Syrian government. State-run television is accusing the local al-Qaeda syndicate of staging the attack, though a UK expert researcher on Syria told Reuters the videos the rebels are distributing online appear to show that the government has "taken an industrial chlorine cylinder, put it in a improvised barrel bomb and dropped it out of a helicopter."
The Wall Street Journal has acquired the video, showing a cloud of yellow gas over the village, followed by a hospital room in which both children and adults are being treated. Warning: the video is graphic.
The United States ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said that reports of the attack were so far "unsubstantiated" but that the United States was investigating the possibility of the videos being verified. The Associated Press notes that the footage resembles that of the August 2013 chemical attack that prompted sanctions on President Assad and killed hundreds of civilians in Damascus.
Since the Syrian government agreed, through diplomacy with Russia, to give up its chemical weapons arsenal, only about half of that arsenal has been destroyed. Syria is well behind schedule in removing the weapons, with the international community repeatedly extending deadlines to give them up. More than 73,000 people are estimated to have been killed in 2013 in Syria, with violent attacks continuing to kill hundreds in subsequent months. Twenty-nine people died in Aleppo this weekend amid a skirmish between the government and Syrian rebels.
Assad's government has launched a campaign in recent months of allying all of the Syrian opposition with al-Qaeda and radical Islamic forces, in part due to the heavy involvement of groups like Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which regularly stages floggings and executions of those who do not follow Sharia Law. The Al Nusra Front, another Islamist group fighting Assad, has closer ties to Al Qaeda (Al Qaeda called for ISIS to leave Syria due to their violent tendencies) and has received money from the United States government.