Syrian opposition groups, who are currently at war with the government, claim hundreds were killed in a “poisonous gas” attack in Damascus suburbs.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, Syrian opposition groups said government forces killed hundreds of people in the capital’s suburbs in a poison gas attack Wednesday, accusations which Syrian authorities denied while acknowledging they were conducting military operations in several areas around Damascus.
The accusations come three days after a team of United Nations inspectors arrived in the Syrian capital to investigate prior allegations by both rebels and the government of chemical weapons use, including toxic nerve agents, in the continuing war, according to the report.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad welcomed the U.N. team and promised full cooperation, with one official saying earlier this week that inspectors would be allowed to travel to the town of Khan al-Assal in northern Syria. Both sides accused each other in March of using chemical weapons there, but the town fell in rebel hands last month after an offensive in which dozens of surrendering soldiers were executed, according to the Wall Street Journal account.
BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports that the latest events creates more questions than answers.
“Many will ask why the government would want to use such weapons at a time when inspectors are in the country and the military has been doing well militarily in the area around Damascus,” he says.
Some will suspect that the footage has been fabricated, but the videos that have emerged would be difficult to fake, he added.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer at the U.K. Joint Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Regiment, said that the footage was “horrific” and agreed that it would be “very difficult to stage-manage.”
If the U.N. inspectors were able to get to the scene, they should have the equipment to identify the chemical that had been used, if any, Bretton-Gordon told the BBC.
Residue from any agent used should be detectable at the scene for a period of two to three days or possibly a week, he said.