There are reports that neighborhoods near both Aleppo and Damascus were hit with chemicals — suggesting a coordinated attack — and the circumstances make it unlikely rebels were responsible, James Miller of EA WorldView reports.
At least 20 people have been killed in the attack, and the casualties include Syrian regime soldiers and pro-Assad armed men.
Earlier, Syria’s government accused rebel forces of firing a rocket containing toxic chemicals for the first time. Rebels say they don’t have the capability, and that a regime Scud missile fell on the wrong side of the front lines in Aleppo.
Blogger Eliot Higgins, who tracks weapons and rebels in Syria, points out that it’s highly unlikely that the homemade rockets used by the opposition could travel 20 miles (as the government claims) or deliver enough pungent gas to hurt that many people.
FSA spokesperson Louay Muqdad denied the charge, telling AFP that rebels “have neither long-range missiles nor chemical weapons. And if we did, we wouldn’t use them against a rebel target.”
Aleppo Media Centre, a group of activists who serve as opposition spokespeople in Syria’s second city, provided Miller with this summary:
According to activists in Aleppo, the regime shelled Police School taken by the opposition by a scud, but by mistake the scud fell on an area controlled by the regime.
Miller notes that Al Atebah is in the “heart of rebel-held eastern Damascus” and has been “constantly under regime air and artillery attack” because it is where rebels are leading their charge into downtown Damascus.
Miller also points out that khan Al Asal is on the front lines of the battle for Aleppo as “a major cohort of rebels are marching against some of Assad’s most hardened bases.”
Miller noted that rebels in the area — equipped with captured tanks, artillery, and other weapons — have been attacking “Assad’s artillery academy and other military installations that constitute the major strongholds of the regime in southwest Aleppo. Without these bases, the city will fall to the rebels.”
Al Jazeera reports a medic in Aleppo believes the victims were exposed to organic pesticides and not chemical weapons. Miller reports that another doctor says that one suspect is an “Organophosphate,” which is in the same category as nerve gases.
This would not be the first time civilians had died from chemicals in the two-year conflict. In December doctors at the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) interviewed witnesses and victims of an apparent attack and concluded the “probable” use of an “incapacitating” chemical called “Agent-15” or “BZ.” A week later “Western intelligence sources” told Ynetnews that chemical weapons had been used on rebels.
Miller ends his report with a question of motive:
Motive is a primary question here. Why attack these sites now? With rebels on the advance in both locations, and with today’s news of the appointment of a new opposition Prime Minister, who thinks that they can benefit from today’s attacks?
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