Syrian official blames rebels for deadly attack

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 22, 2013 at 4:08 pm •  Published: August 22, 2013
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"We can only say that extremist forces carried it out, linked to foreign forces, since no Syrian can do this against another Syrian," he said. "At the head of these forces are those who have promoted vengeance and hatred and spoke of ousting the regime by force over the past two years."

The main state television news channel aired a documentary-style segment showing the pictures of the children's bodies lined up in their shrouds. "This is the brutality of the terrorists and those who have destructive plans for Syria," a voiceover intoned. "They trade in the lives of children, they use chemical weapons." The segment included an explanation of sarin gas, with diagrams of its effects on the body, though it didn't directly claim that sarin was used in Wednesday's attack.

Jamil estimated there were now 30,000 to 40,000 foreign fighters on Syrian soil from 70 countries.

"There are forces that have lost their minds and are using the most extreme weapons in their hands to prevent the international conference. They're in a state of insanity, they have lost their senses. It's a political attack as much as it's a chemical attack," he said.

Syrian opposition figures and activists have reported death tolls from Wednesday's attack ranging from 136 to 1,300. But even the most conservative tally would make it the deadliest alleged chemical attack in Syria's civil war.

U.N. deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said the U.N. chief has been in touch with world leaders since Wednesday and is sending U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane to Damascus to press for an investigation.

A 20-member U.N. team led by Swedish chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom has been in Damascus since Sunday to investigate three sites where chemical weapons attacks allegedly occurred in the past: the village of Khan al-Assal just west of the embattled northern city of Aleppo and two other locations being kept secret for security reasons.

The opposition decried what is said were restrictions placed on the U.N. team by Assad's regime.

"The (U.N.) investigators came to Damascus to sit in the hotel and drink coffee, go out only with the regime's permission, visit what the regime wants and see what the regime wants. We don't need them in Damascus if that's how it's going to be," Louay al-Mikdad, a spokesman for the Western-backed opposition's military wing told Al-Arabiya TV.

The fighting raging in the Ghouta region — the distant thuds could be heard in the capital — as Syrian government forces pressed their offensive was likely to complicate even further the U.N. experts' visit to the area where they would need to cross between government and rebel-held territory.

Warplanes conducted several air raids on the eastern and western suburbs of Damascus, including three that took place within five minutes, and regime forces shelled eastern Ghouta from the picturesque Qasioun mountain overlooking Damascus, activists said.

Mohammed Abdullah, an activist in the suburb of Saqba, told the AP via Skype on Thursday that most of the dead were buried hours after the attack in collective graves in different areas in eastern Ghouta. The burials took place quickly for fear the bodies might decompose as in the heat, he said.

France, meanwhile, raised the possibility of the use of force in Syria if it is proven that Assad's regime used chemical weapons, while Turkey said several red lines have been crossed.

"We need a reaction by the international community .... a reaction of force," said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. He excluded soldiers on the ground as an option, though, and declined to be "more precise" on the type of force that could be used.

The state news agency also reported that a suicide bomber attacked a sports facility in the northern city of Aleppo where a family was holding a party for a schoolgirl who passed her high school tests. Seven people were killed, including the girl and Hassan Mhanna, a journalist working for the state-run Al-Ikhbariya channel.

The unrest in Syria began in March 2011 and later exploded into a civil war. More than 100,000 people have been killed, according to U.N. figures.

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Karam reported from Beirut.