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Experts doubt that Syria has employed chemical weapons

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By USA Today
Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 8:48 p.m.

Whether Syria crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons in its battle against a rebellion appeared murky on Wednesday, and both sides in the war blamed the other for an attack that Western nations are unsure even happened.

The Syrian regime of Bashar Assad blamed rebels for an attack on Tuesday in the village of Khan al-Assal that killed at least two dozen people, according to anti-Assad groups. Damascus asked the United Nations to investigate.

Syria's main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, also demanded an investigation into claims that could not be independently verified because the area is largely sealed off from journalists.

The United States claims Assad has a huge store of chemical weapons but experts say the regime probably would not use them, and opposition forces could not use them.

“All we really have to go on are the claims of the regime and the opposition, neither of which are very credible,” said David Hartwell, Middle East analyst at IHS Jane's in London. “If you were looking at an attack with chemical munitions, you would expect an awful lot more casualties than the deaths yesterday.” IHS Jane's is an intelligence company.

Israel seemed convinced something had occurred. Yuval Steinitz, minister of intelligence and strategic affairs, said it is “apparently clear” that chemical weapons were used. A Reuters photographer said victims he had visited in Aleppo hospitals were suffering breathing problems.

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