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The Battle for Syria

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Syrians say Assad Choppers Dropped Poisonous Gas

May 16th 2013

Syrian explosion

Residents of the northern Syrian town of Saraqeb said government helicopters had dropped at least two devices containing poisonous gas, the BBC reported Thursday.
Saraqeb, a town south-west of Aleppo, came under artillery bombardment in April from government positions. Doctors at the local hospital told the BBC's correspondent they had admitted eight people suffering from breathing problems. Some were vomiting and others had constricted pupils, they said. One woman, Maryam Khatib, later died. 

A number of videos passed to the BBC appear to support these claims, but the BBC said it is impossible to independently verify them. Khatib's son Mohammed, the report said, had rushed to the scene to help his mother and was also injured in the attack.

"It was a horrible, suffocating smell. You couldn't breathe at all. You'd feel like you were dead. You couldn't even see. I couldn't see anything for three or four days," Khatib told the BBC.

According to the report, a doctor who treated Mrs. Khatib said her symptoms corresponded to organophosphate poisoning and that samples had been sent for testing.

One device was said to have landed on the outskirts of Saraqeb, with eyewitnesses describing a box-like container, with a hollow concrete casing inside, the BBC reported. In another video, a rebel fighter holds a canister said to be hidden inside the devices. Witnesses claim there were two in each container.

Another video shows parts of a canister on the ground, surrounded by white powder.

The BBC has been told that samples from the scene and from the alleged victims have been sent to Britain, France, Turkey and the US for testing. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday that tests conducted on Syrian casualties, which arrived in Turkey, suggested chemical weapons may have been used by Syrian security forces.

“We have been making tests and we have some indications regarding chemical weapons being used, but in order to make sure and verify we are continuing these tests and will be sharing these tests with UN agencies,” Davutoglu was reported saying by Reuters.

Assad's forces and opposing rebels have accused each other of using chemical weapons.

Washington has long said it views the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a "red line." But, wary of the false intelligence that was used to justify the 2003 war in Iraq, the United States says it wants proof before taking any action.

Meanwhile, a video published on Thursday showed that fighters of the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in Syria executed 11 men they accused of taking part in massacres by President Assad's forces,

A man whose face was covered in a black balaclava shot each man in the back of the head as they kneeled, blindfolded and lined up in a row in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor.

"The sharia court for the eastern region in Deir al-Zor has sentenced to death these apostate soldiers that committed massacres against our brothers and families in Syria," the executioner said on the video.

Islamist militants with black flags shouted "God is great" as each man was shot. The executioner returned to some victims, firing more bullets into them to make sure they were dead.

The video is the second in two days to show such executions by fighters who say they are from al-Qaeda-linked groups.

A video posted online on Wednesday from the northern province of Raqqa, which is controlled by Islamist rebels, showed three blindfolded men sitting on the curb of a central roundabout before being shot in the head with a pistol.

A man speaking in the video said the executions were revenge for killings in the coastal town of Banias two weeks ago. Photos and videos of the alleged Banias massacre showed dozens of mutilated bodies, many of them children, lying in the streets.

Videos of executions and torture have become increasingly common in Syria, where more than 94,000 people have been killed in a conflict now in its third year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group.

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