The Syrian government and rebels are each accusing one another of launching a chemical attack in the northern city of Aleppo. A photographer for Reuters claims he saw victims of the apparent chemical weapons attack suffering from breathing problems. A human rights group in Syria puts the death toll at 26. The potential use of chemical weapons against its own people may leave the U.S. no choice but to get involved in Syria.
The photographer, who gave a telephone interview to Reuters news agency, said the victims were mostly women and children and that the smell of chlorine was in the air. He also told the news agency that individuals could be seen suffocating in the streets. The victims went to four local hospitals near the government controlled areas of Aleppo.
Immediately following the attack, the Assad government issued a statement on state-friendly television blaming Syrian rebels. The information minister for Syria, Omran al-Zoubi, claims that rebels launched a missile loaded with chemical weapons into the Khan al-Assal village. He also said the attack represented an “extremely dangerous development.” Zoubi also blamed Turkey and Qatar for their support of rebel forces. Russia, who is known to have close ties to the Assad regime, also blamed the rebels for the attack.
Rebels have denied any involvement in the attack, "Then suddenly we learned that the regime was turning these reports against us. The rebels were not behind this attack." The rebels believe that the government fired a Scud missile equipped with chemical agents into the town of Khan al-Assal.
It is not yet known if any chemical weapons were actually used. Some experts have said that the symptoms do not bear any resemblance to those that one would expect following a chemical weapons attack. President Bashar-al-Assad and his government have neither claimed nor denied possession of chemical weapons. President Obama has said in the past that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line.”
"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."
Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton can be seen warning the Assad regime against using chemical weapons in the video below.
Israel and Britain have made similar remarks regarding the use of chemical weapons. Israel promised to mount an attack on Syria should any chemical weapons be used. Britain’s statements have echoed the sentiments expressed by the U.S. government.
There is no doubt the Assad regime is getting more desperate. Some reports say the government already used chemical weapons in the city of Homs in December. The assertion comes from a State Department cable investigating the possible use of Agent 15 by the Assad government on Dec. 23.
The U.S. has expressed concern over the possible use of chemical weapons for months following the movement of chemical weapons out of storage facilities. While the accusations being lobbed back and forth by both sides could be nothing more than propaganda, it represents an escalation of violence in the now two-year-old resistance that has killed 70,000 people. As the country continues to spiral out of control, it will become increasingly difficult for the international community and the U.S. to just stand by.
EDITOR'S UPDATE: Footage of what appears to be victims of the gas attack being treated in a Syrian medical facility has emerged on Twitter. Video below (WARNING: contents may be considered very disturbing):