Poison attack alleged in Syria

April 13, 2014 - 12:44:34 am
Lebanese security forces patrol a street in Baalbek’s Al Sharawna neighbourhood as part of reinforcement of security measures in Bekaa Valley, near the border with Syria, yesterday. The war in Syria has spilled over into Lebanon.

BEIRUT: Syrian government media and rebel forces said yesterday that poison gas had been used in a village in Hama province of central Syria, blaming each other for an attack that reportedly injured scores of people.

Elsewhere, fighting raged all day in Aleppo near an air force intelligence base, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights labelling it “the most violent since the beginning of the battle” in the northern city in mid-2012.

And a bomb blast and shelling in areas of Damascus killed four people, the official news agency SANA reported.

Details of the attack on Friday in Kfar Zeita, a village in Hama province some 200 kilometres north of Damascus, remained sketchy last night.

But online videos posted by rebel activists showed pale-faced men, women and children gasping for breath at a field hospital, suggesting an affliction by some kind of poison in a conflict that’s seen hundreds killed by chemical weapons.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said the poison gas attack hurt dozens of people, though it did not identify the gas used.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that relies on a network of on-the-ground volunteers, said the gas attack happened during air raids that left heavy smoke over the area. It reported that people suffered from suffocation and breathing problems after the attack, but gave no further details.

State-run Syrian television blamed members of the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front rebel group for using what it described as chlorine gas in an attack it said killed two people and injuring more than 100. The TV report claimed the Nusra Front is preparing for another chemical attack against the Wadi Deif area in the northern province of Idlib, as well as another area in Hama. The government station did not explain how it knew the Nusra Front’s plans.

Activists in the village could not be reached yesterday.

An activist from Hama who is currently in Turkey and is in contact with residents told The Associated Press that the attack occurred around sunset on Friday. The man, who goes with the name Amir Al Basha, said the air raids on the rebel-held village came as nearby areas including Morek and Khan Sheikhoun have witnessed intense clashes between troops and opposition fighters.

An amateur video posted online by opposition activists showed a hospital room in Kfar Zeita that was packed with men and children, some of whom breathing through oxygen masks. 

On one bed, the video showed six children, some appearing to have difficulty breathing while others cried.

In Aleppo, fierce fighting raged yesterday for the first time near a government intelligence centre in the Zahra neighbourhood, said Abdel Rahman. 

He added that both government and opposition fighters had suffered “losses” and a large number of people fled the fighting.

Government warplanes pounded the nearby area of Lamrayun and the edges of the intelligence base.

The Observatory, which relies on activists on the ground and medics for its information, said another 10 people were killed when Islamist rebels shelled regime-held areas of Aleppo.

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