Syrian government and rebels trade gas-attack accusations

BEIRUT -- Syrian rebels accused government forces of launching toxic-gas attacks on civilians Tuesday in a town southwest of Aleppo. The government rejected the claim and accused the rebels of using chemical weapons themselves.

Rebel sources provided video of people receiving treatment who they say were among the victims of a gas attack, but the images were not conclusive, and neither of the gas-attack claims by the rebels or the government could be independently verified. The accusations on both sides came amid heightened fighting around the contested northern city that killed at least 20 people, activists and government media reported.

Rescuers and doctors in rebel-held Saraqib, a town in the northwestern Idlib province, about 25 miles southwest of Aleppo, reported dozens of cases of severe breathing difficulties, saying the symptoms pointed to a chlorine-gas attack.

A neurologist, Dr. Ibrahim al-Assad, said he treated 16 of the 29 cases brought to his hospital Monday night, most of whom were women and children. One elderly man needed critical care, but most of the victims were suffering from breathing difficulties, red eyes and wheezing, al-Assad said.

He said first responders smelled the gas at the site of the bomb attack, which he described as a busy shopping area near an ice-cream shop. Rebels and activists have reported chlorine-gas attacks in the town before, but the lack of chemical labs or independent testers makes it difficult to verify these claims. The government denies it has launched chlorine-gas attacks.

Syrian state media later reported five people had died and eight others had experienced breathing difficulties after artillery shells laced with toxic gases landed on the old city of Aleppo. It said the shells were launched by rebels.