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Syrian forces bomb area of alleged chemical attack

Government denies use of chemical weapons; Turkey calls on international community to act against Bashar Al-Assad's ‘crime against humanity’

AP , Thursday 22 Aug 2013
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President Bashar Assad's forces pressed on with a military offensive in eastern Damascus on Thursday, bombing rebel-held suburbs where the opposition said a chemical weapons attack the day before killed over 1000 people.

The government has denied allegations it used chemical weapons in artillery barrages on the area known as eastern Ghouta on Wednesday as "absolutely baseless." The United States, Britain, Germany and France have demanded that a team of UN experts already in Syria be granted immediate access to investigate the site.

Using chemical weapons to strike rebels at the same time a team of UN inspectors is working in Syria would be "political suicide", a high-ranking Syrian security source said Thursday.

Wednesday "was the first day of the UN mission's work, and using chemical weapons at this time would have been political suicide", the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"All analysts say that it is not in our current interest to use chemical weapons while the commission is on the ground," he added. Syrian opposition figures and activists have reported widely varying death tolls from Wednesday's attack, from 136 to as high as 1,300. But even the most conservative tally would make it the deadliest alleged chemical attack in Syria's civil war.

UNICEF said in a statement that the reports of attacks on civilians, presumably including children, were "deeply disturbing."

"Such horrific acts should be a reminder to all the parties and all who have influence on them that this terrible conflict has gone on far too long and children have suffered more than enough," UNICEF said. "Children must be protected, and those who fail to protect them will be held accountable."

Meanwhile, Turkey's deputy prime minister says that only Syria's government is in possession of the type of chemical weapons that were used in an attack.

Bekir Bozdag urged the international community on Thursday to act against "this crime against humanity," and put a stop to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's violence.

"How many more people must die before you say (to Syria) 'This is enough,'" said Bozdag.

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