RUSSIA accused Syrian rebels of using chemical weapons in an attack on Tuesday and said it was an extremely alarming and dangerous development.
"According to information coming from Damascus, a case of the use of chemical weapons by the armed opposition was recorded early in the morning of March 19 in Aleppo province," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It did not specify the exact source of information on the deadly attack, which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and the rebels blamed on one another. It said the explosion of a piece of ammunition "containing a poisonous substance" killed 16 people and wounded about 100 others.
If confirmed, the attack would be the first use of chemical weapons in the two-year-old conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people and set Russia against the West.
"We are very seriously concerned by the fact that weapons of mass destruction are falling into the hands of the rebels, which further worsens the situation in Syria and elevates the confrontation in the country to a new level," the ministry said.
Russia has warned Assad's government not to use chemical weapons and said in December that Damascus had taken steps to ensure that chemical agents were secure by concentrating them at a smaller number of sites.
Moscow has protected Assad from threats of sanctions to press him to end violence, vetoing three Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions. It says his exit from power must not be a precondition for a political settlement.
The White House said that it was looking carefully at any allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria.
Britain's U.N. envoy said that reports of a chemical weapon attack in Syria had not yet been "fully verified" as the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Syrian rebels of using chemical weapons near the northern city of Aleppo.
"We have seen those reports, they haven't yet been fully verified," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters on his way into a UN. Security Council meeting on Afghanistan.
"But clearly if chemical weapons were used then that would be abhorrent and it would require a serious response from the international community," he said.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan rejected the accusation from Syria that Turkey bore responsibility for a possible chemical attack in the northern province of Aleppo.
"Turkey has never been in a situation in which it used chemical weapons. There are no chemical weapons in our inventory," Erdogan told reporters.
"The Syrian regime doesn't know what it's saying about Turkey."
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi said earlier that Turkey and Qatar, which have supported rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, bore "legal, moral and political responsibility" for the attack, state television reported.
The minister said rebels had fired a rocket carrying chemical agents that killed 16 people and wounded 86. State television said later the death toll had risen to 25.