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Syria accuses rebels of using chemical weapons – Yahoo! News

By Albert Aji

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian state media accused rebels of using chemical arms on Saturday against government troops trying to storm a contested neighborhood of Damascus, claiming a major army offensive in recent days had forced the opposition fighters to resort to such weapons “as their last card.”

State TV broadcast images of plastic jugs, gas masks, vials of an unspecified medication, explosives and other items that it said were seized from rebel hideouts. It did not, however, show any video of soldiers reportedly affected by toxic gas in the fighting in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus.

Still, the claims could muddy the debate about who was responsible for an alleged gas attack on rebel-held suburbs of the capital on Wednesday that activists say killed more than 130 people. That attack has spurred demands for an independent investigation and renewed talk of potential international military action if chemical weapons were indeed used.

Just hours before the state media reports, the U.N. disarmament chief arrived in Damascus to press President Bashar Assad’s regime to allow U.N. experts to investigate Wednesday’s alleged attack. The Assad regime has denied allegations that it was behind that attack, calling them “absolutely baseless” and suggesting they are an attempt to discredit the government.

… The state news agency said several government troops who took part in an offensive experienced severe trouble breathing or even “suffocation” after “armed terrorist groups used chemical weapons.” It was not clear what was meant by “suffocation” and the report mentioned no fatalities among the troops.

The government refers to rebels fighting to topple Assad as “terrorists.”

“The Syrian Army achieved major progress in the past days and for that reason, the terrorist groups used chemical weapons as their last card,” the Syrian state TV said.

That report was followed by an unusual string of breaking alerts on the TV’s news scroll that made a series of claims related to the alleged use of chemical arms by rebels in the Jobar neighborhood.

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