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U.S. gathers facts on alleged chemical attack in Syria

| Monday, April 21, 2014, 8:42 p.m.
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TOPSHOTS A Syrian girl collects her belongings from rubble on April 21, 2014 after her building was reportedly destroyed in an air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo. AFP PHOTO / BARAA AL-HALABI BARAA AL-HALABI/AFP/Getty Images
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Syrian men stand on a street covered with rubble as flames rise from buildings following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on April 20, 2014 in the northern city of Aleppo. According to the the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 10 people were killed in air raids on Aleppo's rebel neighbourhoods. AFP PHOTO / AMC / ZEIN AL-RIFAIZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The United States has indications that a toxic chemical, probably chlorine, was used in Syria this month and is examining whether the Syrian government was responsible, the State Department said on Monday.

“We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical” in the town of Kfar Zeita, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, referring to a rebel-held area.

“We are examining allegations that the government was responsible,” she said. “Obviously, there needs to be an investigation of what's happened here.”

Syrian opposition activists reported that helicopters dropped chlorine gas on Kfar Zeita on April 11 and 12. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told ABC television's “This Week” on April 13 that the attack was “unsubstantiated.”

Psaki said chlorine was not one of the priority one or two chemicals Syria declared to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons under a Russian-U.S. agreement for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

Psaki said the United States was still trying to determine the facts.

“We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat very seriously,” she said. “We'll work with the OPCW, who is obviously overseeing the implementation, and determine if any violation occurred.”

A U.N. inquiry found in December that sarin gas had likely been used in Jobar, on the outskirts of Damascus, in August and in several other locations, including in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where hundreds of people were killed.

The Ghouta attack caused global outrage and a U.S. threat of military strikes that was dropped when Syrian President Bashar Assad pledged to destroy his chemical weapons arsenal.

Psaki rejected presidential elections announced by Syria on Monday as “a parody of democracy” with no credibility.

“Staging elections under current conditions, including the effective disenfranchisement of millions of Syrians, neither addresses the aspirations of the Syrian people, nor moves the country any closer to a negotiated political solution,” she said.

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