A chemical attack in Syria was reported on Tuesday, in which both sides of the conflict pointed fingers at each other. The reported attack killed at least 16 people and injured almost 100 more.
The reported chemical attack happened in Aleppo on Tuesday morning, but neither side seems willing to take responsibility. Aleppo has served as a hub for much of the fighting.
While the White House has said there is no evidence to support a chemical attack, it is understood that, if the attack did take place, it would be a massive escalation in the conflict, which just passed the two-year mark.
It is known that President Bashar al-Assad possesses VX and sarin nerve gases, as well as other chemical weapons. However, there is no evidence that the rebels have the same arsenal. US President Barack Obama warned Assad previously that any chemical weapons attack in the country would be crossing the “red line.”
Syrian state television reported the chemical attack, saying that the rocket carrying the agents killed 25 people and wounded dozens more. Activist group the Syrian Observatory For Human Rights added that 16 soldiers were among those killed. No Western governments or international organizations confirmed the attack.
However, Russia, an ally of the Syrian president’s regime, blamed rebels for carrying out the strike. Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Meqdad, said that the government will send a letter to the UN Security Council, asking it to “handle its responsibilities and clarify a limit to these crimes of terrorism and those that support it inside Syrian Arab Republic.”
The Syrian chemical attack, should it be confirmed, would likely be another signal that the civil war could turn into a regional conflict. Meqdad also warned that the conflict presents a threat to the region. Following the attack, a photographer with Reuters reported that the victims were suffering from breathing problems. They also reported smelling chlorine after the attack.
The photographer added that he saw mainly women and children in the hospital. He added that victims reported people dying in the streets and in their homes. While Assad has been known to possess chemical weapons, Syrian officials have said that they would never be used against civilians, but would be used to defend the country against foreign aggression.
The Syria conflict began in March 2011 as peaceful protests demanding the ouster of President Assad. But the protests quickly descended into a civil war after regime forces shot and arrested thousands of activists. Since then, the Assad regime has been blamed for several massacres, including one last year that took the lives of dozens of women and children. The regime routinely blames large death tolls on foreign fighters.
An unidentified doctor spoke on Syrian state television on Tuesday. He said that the chemical attack was either “phosphorus or poison.” A young girl on a stretcher also explained her symptoms. While weeping, she explained:
“My chest closed up. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t breathe … We saw people falling dead to the floor. My father fell, he fell and now we don’t know where he is. God curse them, I hope they die.”
Should the Syria chemical attack be substantiated, there is no telling what may happen to the region. It is possible that the US and other Western countries would consider an intervention in the war.