Monday, December 24, 2012

More on Syria's Possible Use of Poison Gas

Wired Magazine reports:
The regime of embattled Syrian president Bashar Assad gassed rebel forces in the battleground city of Homs, anti-government activists told Al Jazeera on Sunday. If the unconfirmed report is true — and that’s a huge if — the chemical attack could signal the biggest escalation yet of 20-month-old Syrian civil war, with serious implications for the rest of the world.

Danger Room first reported in early December that the Assad regime was preparing some of its nerve weapons for possible use against rebel forces. Washington and its allies have repeatedly said they would not tolerate such an attack. “This would cross a red line and those responsible would be held to account,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned previously.

Even Sergei Lavrov — foreign minister of Assad’s ally, Russia — called the use of chemical weapons “political suicide.”

So far, however, U.S. officials contacted by Danger Room have declined to confirm or deny whether such weapons have been used.

Al Jazeera reported that seven people died after inhaling a gas sprayed by government forces in a part of Homs held by the rebel Free Syrian Army. “We don’t know what this gas is but medics are saying it’s something similar to sarin,” rebel Raji Rahmet Rabbou told the Qatar-based news organization.

The “poisonous material” was deployed by government warplanes, Haaretz reported, citing a rebel statement. The Assad regime, meanwhile, is blaming the rebels for the attack.

Al Jazeera posted two videos it said were obtained from “a field clinic in the city.” The graphic videos indeed appear to depict gasping victims of what could be a nerve agent attack. Again, however, the origins and contents of these videos have yet to be verified by other sources.

Sarin can cause paralysis, choking and even death. But the symptoms shown in these videos might have been caused by other chemicals — possibly chlorine, phosgene, cyanogen chloride, according to one independent review of the clips (.pdf). Or we might simply be seeing a severe asthma attack.

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