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Syria claims rebel chemical weapon attack kills 16

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 19, 2013 at 8:02 am •  Published: March 19, 2013

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria's government accused rebels of firing a chemical weapon on Tuesday for the first time in the 2-year-old civil war, calling it the "first act" of a newly announced opposition interim government.

Rebels quickly denied the report and accused regime forces of firing the chemical weapon. Neither of the accusations could immediately be verified.

Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said 16 people were killed and 86 wounded in the missile attack on the village of Khan al-Assal near the city of Aleppo.

If confirmed, it would mark the first time such weapons have been used since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.

One of the international community's top concerns since fighting began is that Syria's vast arsenal of chemical weapons could be used by one side or the other or could fall into the hands of foreign jihadist fighters among the rebels or the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is allied with the regime.

The minister al-Zoubi said the missile containing "poisonous gases" was fired from Nairab district in Aleppo into Khan al-Assal village.

The reported attack was in an area just east of the city of Aleppo that had seen fierce fighting for weeks before rebels took over a sprawling government complex there last month.

The facility included several military posts and a police academy that Assad's forces have turned into a military base that regularly fires shells at nearby villages.

In comments made to the pro-government Al-Ikhbariya TV station, the information minister held the international community responsible for arming the rebels and described it as a "dangerous escalation."

"This is the first act by the government announced in Istanbul," he said.

Syria's opposition coalition early Tuesday elected a little-known American-educated IT manager to head an interim government to administer areas seized by rebel forces from Assad's troops.

In his first speech after his election, Hitto ruled out dialogue with the regime.

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