MOSCOW, March 19 (RIA Novosti) – Russia sounded the alarm on Tuesday over the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syria’s armed opposition, saying that it would lead to an escalation of the conflict.
Syria’s state news agency SANA accused antigovernment militants Tuesday of firing a rocket containing chemical agents into a village near the northern city of Aleppo, reportedly killing at least 26 people. Around 100 people are reported to be injured.
“We are very seriously concerned by the fact that chemical weapons have fallen in the hands of the armed opposition in Syria,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Opposition forces have denied reports of the attack and instead accused the government of using chemical weapons.
Syria's Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi said the army would never resort to using internationally banned weapons.
"We would never use them due to moral, humanitarian and political reasons," Zoabi was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said reports on the attack could not be confirmed, but reiterated US warnings against President Bashar al-Assad to ensure the use of chemical weaponry be avoided.
“If Assad and those under his command make the mistake of using chemical weapons or fail to meet their obligations to secure them, then there will be consequences,” Carney said.
Britain said on Tuesday the use or proliferation of chemical weapons in Syria would require a serious response from the international community.
"The UK is clear that the use or proliferation of chemical weapons would demand a serious response from the international community and force us to revisit our approach so far," Reuters quoted a British Foreign Office spokeswoman as saying.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Syrian authorities in early January to ensure its control over its chemical armaments caches and warned of a “major threat” in the event of the rebels securing the weapons.
Syria is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention and has not ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. It is believed to possess mustard gas and sarin, an extremely toxic nerve agent.
The US has officially stated that Syria has a long-standing chemical warfare program and that the weapons can be “delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets.”
Syria said last year that its chemical arsenal could be used against “foreign invaders.”
More than 70,000 people have been killed since the outbreak of hostilities in Syria, according to the latest United Nations estimate.
About 1 million Syrians have been displaced by the fighting, with the figure expected to triple this year, the UN said this month.
Updated with new headline.