Gas attack kills 25 as Syrian conflict takes sinister twist
Chemical weapons were suspected to have been used for the first time in the Syrian civil war as the opposing sides accused each other of a poison gas attack that killed at least 25 people near the city of Aleppo.
Russia's foreign ministry said it had information that rebel Free Syrian Army fighters had used chemical weapons captured from government forces.
The US said the incident was under investigation but rebutted the accusation the rebels had used weapons of mass destruction.
An early-morning rocket attack on government-held parts of Khan al-Assal, a town on the south-western outskirts of Aleppo, left victims gasping for breath and foaming at the mouth. A large proportion of the victims were government soldiers.
Experts in biological warfare said the incident was likely to have been a "chemical leak" in which a store of industrial or agricultural chemicals was hit by a missile.
"It is not likely that this was mustard gas or other nerve agents from what is being reported," said Hamish de Bretton Gordon, a director of SecureBio, a specialist chemical warfare firm.
"There are a lot of nasty chemicals that could have been released by accident that create the illusion that chemical weapons have been deployed."
Moscow said the intensifying conflict was raising the likelihood that chemical weapons would be turned on civilians.
"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 foreign ministry said.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, reminded Bashar al-Assad's regime that use of such materials was a "red line" that would trigger US intervention. "We have no evidence to substantiate the charge that the opposition has used chemical weapons," he said.
"We are deeply sceptical of a regime that has lost all credibility and we would also warn the regime against making these kinds of charges as any kind of pretext or cover for its use of chemical weapons."(© Daily Telegraph, London)