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Syria, Opposition Groups Trade Charges of Chemical Attack

Civil War in Syria
Emergency responders help evacuate a Syrian boy from a residential building reportedly hit by an explosives-filled barrel dropped by a government forces helicopter on the Shaar neighborhood in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on April 6, 2014. Photographer: Khaled Khatib/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. hasn’t yet substantiated accusations made by both Syria’s government and opposition forces that poisonous gas was used during an attack on a village north of Damascus, Ambassador Samantha Power said today.

Syria’s state-run television blamed the Islamist al-Nusra Front for releasing chlorine gas in the village of Kfar Zeita on April 11, killing two people and wounding more than 100. The main western-backed opposition group said government forces used chlorine in the village as well “poison gas” and pesticides in the town of Harasta in the environs of Damascus. The reports couldn’t be independently verified.

“We are trying to run this down,” Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “So far, it’s unsubstantiated, but we’ve seen, I think, in the past that we will do everything in our power to establish what has happened and then consider possible steps in response.”

Syria last year agreed to give up its chemical arsenal under a Russian initiative endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. The deal led the U.S. to withdraw threats of military action to punish President Bashar al-Assad’s government for its alleged use of sarin gas near Damascus in August that killed hundreds.

“As long as there is not a clear response, the Assad regime will continue to carry out atrocities, gassing innocent men, women and children in Syria,” the Syrian National Coalition said in a statement on its website yesterday.

Since 2011

Syria’s civil war has claimed the lives of at least 150,000 people since 2011, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Nine million people have also been displaced.

Power said the Obama administration put the threat of military force on the table last year to ensure that chemical weapons wouldn’t be used. The U.S. deal with Russia has led to the removal and destruction of more than half of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, she said.

“We weren’t just removing for removing’s sake,” Power said. “It was to avoid use. So we will have to look at our policy options.”

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