Chemical use feared in Syria

March 19, 2013

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria’s government and rebels traded accusations of a chemical attack Tuesday on a northern village near Aleppo. However a U.S. official said there was no evidence of any such attack.

The regime, whose allegation was backed by ally Russia, said 31 people were killed, including 21 civilians and 10 soldiers.

The reports could not be independently verified because of tight media restrictions, particularly in government-controlled areas that are virtually shut to all foreign media and outside observers.

But if confirmed, it would be the first known use of chemical weapons in the 2-year-old civil war.

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 jihadi fighters among the rebels or the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is allied with the regime.

The accusations emerged only a few hours after the opposition to President Bashar Assad elected a prime minister to head an interim government that would rule areas seized by rebel forces from the regime.