Syrian Forces Accused of Gassing Palestinian District in Damascus

Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- Syria’s Western-backed opposition group on Monday accused President Bashar Assad’s forces of using chemical arms to attack a Palestinian enclave of Damascus.

Video from local activists indicates that government backers “are using chemical and toxic gas bombs to shell the Yarmouk Palestinian Camp,” the Syrian National Coalition said in a press release.

“The strategic, systematic use of chemical weapons in order to achieve military gains only proves the desperate state that Assad’s regime has reached,” the group said.

No details about the alleged strike were immediately available. Assad’s government and the opposition have repeatedly charged each other with plotting and conducting chemical strikes, but each side has denied any role by its own forces in carrying out such attacks.

More than 93,000 people are thought to have died in the Syrian civil war since 2011, primarily as a result of fighting with conventional weapons.

The United Kingdom last week said it would supply the Syrian National Coalition with defenses against nerve gas attacks by the Assad regime. Shipments of the protective gear could begin next week.

However, previously announced steps to arm the Syrian opposition appeared to be on hold amid concerns over military gains by the Damascus government. In June, the Obama administration cited evidence of sarin gas strikes by Assad loyalists in announcing plans to arm Syrian resistance fighters.

Washington “pledged a serious, strong response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons” and committed “to protect civilians,” according to the Syrian National Coalition statement. U.S. lawmakers continue to debate intervention options, including transfers of arms to resistance fighters.

Speaking at a security conference in Colorado on Saturday, a senior U.S. Defense Department intelligence official said the war could drag on for “multiple years.” A former top military commander added that greater U.S. intervention would mean a “a full-throated, very, very serious war.”