DAMASCUS, March 20 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian government and exiled opposition have traded accusations over the alleged use of chemical weapons in northern Aleppo province, with each party urging the United Nations to form an investigation team.
Syria's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday called on the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to form "a specialized, independent and neutral technical mission to investigate the use by the terrorist groups operating in Syria of chemical weapons in Khan al- Asal in Aleppo province.
A day earlier, at least 31 people, including 10 army personnel, were killed when armed groups fired a rocket stuffed with chemical substance at the Khan al-Asal town. The Syrian officials said the rocket was launched from a rebel-controlled area and landed near a military base in the town that is under the government troops' control.
Meanwhile, the ministry said that the request for a technical team "affirms Syria's commitment to uncovering the details of this crime and the threats it poses to the safety of Syrian citizens, in addition to refuting all the lies propagated by the circles that support terrorism and terrorists."
The ministry also urged the international community to take preventative steps "against these armed groups and its supporters. "
Last December, the Syrian government informed the UN Secretary- General of its worries that some countries that support the rebels would provide them with chemical weapons.
On the opposition side, the Syrian National Coalition, Syria's main opposition group in exile, said in a statement Wednesday that "all evidences now indicate that the Assad regime is using these weapons against its own people."
"The coalition demands a full international investigation, and asks for a delegation to be sent to inquire and visit the site," the Western-backed coalition added.
Syrian experts, meanwhile, pinpointed a number of reasons to refute the opposition's argument, mainly that the area from which the rocket was launched is under the rebels' control; that the rocket slammed near a military post and killed 10 soldiers as well as 21 civilians; that the footage of the aftermath of the attack was aired exclusively by the state TV whose camera and reporter were at site, while there were no footage by the opposition activists, an indication that the targeted area is fully under the government's control.
Experts also pointed out that the usage of a chemical weapon, regardless of who have done it, would open the appetite of foreign powers to intervene in the country, a matter that would harm the Syrian government and play in the hands of the rebels who have been craving for a foreign intervention to hasten the downfall of Assad's administration.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke in a phone call with Ahmet Uzumcu, Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, voicing "deep concern" about the alleged use of these deadly weapons in Syria.
According to a read-out of the conversation, "the secretary- general remains convinced that the use of chemical weapons by any party under any circumstances would constitute an outrageous crime. "
Ban's spokesperson Martin Nesirky said the UN is not in a position to confirm the reports of possible chemical weapons use in Syria.
Meanwhile, the United States government said it did not believe Syrian government's allegations that rebels were behind the attack, saying that it is studying opposition allegations that Syria's government forces were responsible for the attack.
"We have no reason to believe these allegations represent anything more than the regime's continued attempts to discredit the legitimate opposition. We've been very clear about our concerns that the Assad regime is increasingly beleaguered, that it finds that the violence that it is using by conventional means is inadequate," said Victoria Nuland, spokesperson of US State Department.
The United States and its Western allies have been pushing over the past two years to form a united opposition front and also expressed support to the rebels on ground in the hope of ousting Assad.
With the West's blessing, the oppositional National Coalition and other exiled groups elected on Tuesday a naturalized Syrian- born American, Ghassan Hitto, as the first prime minister of an interim Syrian government, a move dismissed by some political forces at home as "a blow to all political efforts" to solve the crisis.
The opposition's move came almost a week after the Arab League requested it to form a government in order to occupy Syria's seat in the bloc, based on Qatar's demand.
Hitto, 50 years old, rejected to hold dialogue with the Assad administration and said his first priority is to bring down Assad' s regime.
"The major mission of the (opposition interim) government is to create the circumstances to hasten the downfall of the regime," Hitto said, adding that "there are no more room for having dialogues with the regime because it's going further in killing and displacing people."
With all the rumbling about him, the Syrian leader on Wednesday surprised the parents of students who were killed over the past two years at a fine arts school at al-Tijara district in Damascus.
According to the state-run SANA news agency, Assad told the families that "today Syria as a whole is wounded...there is no one that didn't lose one of his/her relatives, a brother, father or a mother... but all of this wouldn't equal the loss of a son. Nevertheless, what happens to us couldn't make us weak and the battle is a battle of will and steadfastness, and in as much as we remain strong, we could protect the other sons of this homeland."
DAMASCUS, March 19 (Xinhua) -- A chemical rocket slammed a town in Syria's northern province of Aleppo Tuesday, killing at least 25 people, with around seven mortar shells landing at an upscale district of the capital Damascus at a time the exiled opposition elected a prime minister for a provisional government.
At least 25 people were killed and 130 others wounded Tuesday when armed men fired a rocket stuffed with chemical materials at the Khan al-Asal town in Aleppo, the state-media said, accusing the armed opposition fighters of being behind it. However, the rebels denied the accusations and turned the accusation finger against the government. Full story
DAMASCUS, March 19 (Xinhua) -- Syria's al-Ekhbaria TV aired footage of the aftermath of a chemical weapon attack by the rebel forces that targeted a town in Aleppo province earlier in the day and killed at least 26 people.
The TV camera panned between different rooms of a hospital where tens of wounded people laid on beds with oxygen masks covering their faces, while doctors and nurses dressed in medical scrubs examining the injured. Full story