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Syria: Opposition says dozens killed in chemical attack near Damascus - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A man sits in a hospital near two children who activists say were affected by nerve gas in the Ghouta region, in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus August 21, 2013. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

A man sits in a hospital near two children who activists say were affected by nerve gas in the Ghouta region, in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus August 21, 2013. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

London and Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Reports have emerged of a chemical weapon attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday, days after a UN team arrived in the country to investigate allegations of chemical attacks on civilians.

Activists from the Syrian opposition said that the attacks took place on Wednesday morning in the Ghouta region north of Damascus, during a bombardment of the area by government artillery and combat jets that killed dozens of civilians.

The official Syrian news agency, SANA, published reports denying government involvement in the attacks. The agency quoted an unnamed “media source” from the Ministry of Information as saying “the news broadcast by some media outlets that chemical weapons have been used in the Ghouta region in the Damascus countryside, were untrue.”

The “source” was further quoted as saying “reports circulated by the TV channels of Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and Sky News, among other channels, which are involved in the shedding of the Syrians’ blood and supporting terrorism, are completely baseless.”

The BBC quoted a former commanding officer of the British army’s Joint Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Regiment, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, as saying the footage “would be very difficult to stage-manage”, but that samples taken from the scene would be reveal if chemical weapons had been deployed.

Meanwhile, fighting continued between Kurdish militias and members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Hasaka on Tuesday. AP news agency quoted activists as saying that “a vicious war has erupted between armed Kurdish men and opposition factions affiliated to the Al-Qaeda in northeast Syria.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the fighting erupted in three villages near Ras El Ayn in Hasaka, where many Kurdish Syrians live.

Around 30,000 Syrians, mostly Kurdish, escaped from the area recently, crossing the border into the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Meanwhile, opposition activist Khalid Kamal, based in the coastal province of Latakia, accused the FSA chiefs of betraying the coastal front by refusing to send heavy weapons to the brigades fighting the government forces.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the behavior of the chief of staff in refusing to support the coastal front followed instructions from Western countries to stop fighting, adding that “the government forces were unable to take control of the villages they lost until they summoned more forces from Idlib and Homs.”

Syrian Arab News Agency, SANA, quoted an unnamed military source as saying “the regular army has regained control of all the positions which opposition fighters took in the past two weeks in the Latakia suburbs.”

In other developments, prominent Alawite cleric Badr Ghazal was killed on Tuesday after being captured by Islamist fighters in the Barouda village early this month. Iranian Al-Alam TV channel reported his death and said the ISIS had executed Ghazal by decapitating him.

An opposition activist, speaking on a condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the oppositions’ joint operations room in Latakia sentenced Ghazal to death after finding evidence that he issued fatwas allowing the killing of Syrians.”

Ghazal was one of the most prominent Alawite clerics, and was accused by opposition activists of issuing fatwas used by criminals to justify murder and pillaging. One of those which used Ghazal’s fatwas was the commander of the Liberation of Iskandaroun Brigade, Ali Kayali, also known as Miraj Ural, who allegedly led a campaign of terror against the people of Banyas and the surrounding area.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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