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Chemical weapons used in Syria: Sources

Sources close to Israeli intelligence say chemical weapons were likely used in an attack in Syria on Monday. If confirmed, the development could provoke an international intervention.

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Syrians walk past damaged buildings in Maarat al-Numan, in the northwestern province of Idlib, on March 20, 2013. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — Sources close to Israeli intelligence told GlobalPost that Israeli Defense Forces believe chemical weapons were used in Syria during an attack on Monday that killed at least 20 people.

While the sources said details remained sketchy, they believe that only the Syrian army has access to lethal chemical weapons. The source did not know what kind of chemical was used.

The Israeli Defense Forces said Wednesday that four injured Syrians had approached the Israeli border. Two of them were treated at the scene and two others, given the severity of their injuries, were transported to a nearby hospital.

Israeli intelligence chief Yuval Steinitz told Israel's Army Radio that it was "clear that chemical weapons were used” in Syria, according to the Washington Post. “The fact they apparently used chemical weapons against civilians needs to worry us and shows the urgency of taking care of the issue."

Steinitz did not explain why he believed chemical weapons were used.

On Tuesday, the Syrian and Russian governments, and the Syrian rebels, traded accusations that chemical weapons were used in an attack in northern Syria. So far there's been no confirmation, however, if chemical weapons were used or who used them.

The Syrian government appealed to the United Nations on Wednesday, calling for an independent probe into their allegations that rebels used chemicals weapons in northern Syria, said AP

Syria's leading opposition group also demanded an external investigation, according to a Wednesday statement from the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, reported the New York Times.

In it, the group said it “condemns these attacks and holds the Assad regime fully responsible for shedding Syrian blood," accusing them of using chemical weapons on Tuesday in the Khan al-Assal area of northern Aleppo Province and the Damascus suburb of Ataybah, said NYT, citing the organization's statement from Cairo. 

“The coalition demands a full international investigation,” the opposition group said, according to NYT. “All evidence now indicates that the Assad regime is using these weapons against its own people.”

More than 70,000 Syrians have died in the country's two-year conflict, which began as a peaceful uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but has since devolved into a sectarian civil war.

More from GlobalPost: Complete Coverage from Inside Syria

US President Barack Obama, who is this week visiting Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, has earlier said that the use — or even the movement — of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "red line," and could provoke more aggressive American intervention in the conflict. 

While, if confirmed, this would be the first known chemical weapons attack in Syria, the Syrian government has for months been launching both ballistic missiles and cluster bombs on civilian populations living in rebel-controlled areas of the country.

The emergencies director for Human Rights Watch, Peter Bouckaert, told GlobalPost that his own researchers on the ground have confirmed the use of ballistic missiles. He called the development “a new low” in the conflict.

“Our researcher was on the ground, sometimes within hours of these ballistic missile strikes occurring, and the destruction he witnessed was staggering,” said Bouckaert, describing how entire neighborhoods had been obliterated. “We have absolutely no sign that there were any legitimate military targets in these areas, so either the government is deliberately targeting civilians or at the very least it is acting with a complete disregard for the lives of its own people.”

In a recent visit to Aleppo, Syria's largest city and the site of several ballistic missile attacks, GlobalPost spoke to residents who said entire neighborhoods had been wiped out, killing hundreds.

“You see the doors and the windows blow out and then they explode back in on you. You can’t even see your own fingers in front of your eyes. Some people died just from the dust,” said one survivor.

The 31-year-old asked that his name not be used as he described the moment he said a ballistic missile hit the Aleppo suburb of Ard al Hamra on Feb. 22. He was in his home three blocks away from the point of impact, but the explosion still damaged his house and killed several of his neighbors.

Following the explosion, the man joined the rescue, digging bodies and body parts from the rubble by hand. He said people had been thrown into the air by the blast, he found corpses up to three blocks from their homes.

“In this spot, right here, we heard voices under the rubble but we couldn’t get to them,” he said, pointing to a large pile of concrete debris. “We had no machines or equipment to dig through the ruins. Until a few days ago there were still dogs digging through the rubble, digging out body parts.

GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Tracey Shelton contributed repoting from Aleppo, Syria.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/syria/130320/israel-us-officials-say-chemical-weapons-likely-used-