Rebels claim Assad used chemical weapons in Damascus attack

Rebels claim Assad used chemical weapons in Damascus attack

Video shows victims of attack on neighborhood with ancient synagogue have trouble breathing, focusing eyes

A victim of an alleged chemical attack in Jobar, Syria, in April. (photo credit: screenshot/YouTube)
A victim of an alleged chemical attack in Jobar, Syria, in April. (photo credit: screenshot/YouTube)

Syrian opposition forces claimed a regime attack on a neighborhood in Damascus included chemical weapons that caused shortness of breath in victims.

Activists published a video online Saturday showing victims on gurneys having trouble breathing or focusing their eyes after the attack on the Jobar neighborhood in the northeast of the capital.

Rebels haved claimed several times in the past that they have been victims of chemical attacks by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad during Syria’s bloody two-year civil war.

Over 70,000 people have been killed and over a million have fled during the fighting, according to United Nations figures.

Both rebels and regime forces accused each other of launching a chemical attack near Aleppo in March, though Western experts believe it was actually a strong tear gas, and not a nerve agent, that was used.

In December, rebel forces claimed that Bashar Assad’s regime used poison gas in an attack on Homs that killed six and injured dozens.

None of the attacks, including Saturday’s, have been confirmed.

The Jobar neighborhood is the site of an ancient synagogue, recently looted and destroyed, venerated by Jews as the place Elijah the Prophet hid. Both the rebels and regime blamed each other for the damage to the synagogue.

In mid-March, Damascus called on the UN to investigate the alleged chemical attack near Aleppo, but then refused to grant UN officials full access to the site where Syrian officials claimed the attack occurred.

Both Britain and France said that the probe should also check the rebels’ claims that the government was behind the attack, as well as two other claims of the use of chemical weapons.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon demanded “unfettered access” to areas where chemical weapons may have been used, but so far the ruling authorities have not agreed, the report said. The demand is a necessary condition for the investigation to go ahead, a UN source told AFP.

“It is obvious that to be able to do this work, you need unfettered access, and that is why the secretary general has underscored that in his communications,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Nesirky made it clear that the investigation is only to establish if chemical weapons were in fact used, and not to level any charges against either side.

While the investigation has yet to be launched, the UN recently announced its plan to broaden the scope of the probe to include incidents other than the March 19 attack that is in question. Russia blasted the announcement as “”unacceptable and intolerable.”

In a statement released by the Russian foreign ministry, spokesman Alexander Lukashevich claimed the UN’s decision to expand the investigation was “”under pressure from Western members of the Council” and that the move “is basically disrupting the investigation into particular reports of the possible use of chemical weapons.”

Moscow has said that the UN investigation should focus solely on the government’s claim that rebel forces used nonconventional weapons.

Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.

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