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High alert is growing in Israel as reports about the use of chemical weapons in Syria get more and more confirmations. The Israeli defense forces (IDF) is “watching and the Israeli airforce is ready to hit every target that may indicate the use of chemical weapons in a way that might endanger Israel”.
Israeli military intelligence sources said, with “high degree of confidence,” that a single chemical weapon – either a SCUD chemical warhead or, more likely, an artillery shell – was fired on the Khan al-Assal neighborhood in Aleppo earlier today, killing twenty-six people, including eleven government soldiers. Scores of injured people were taken to area hospitals.
In a speech last week, Maj. Gen Aviv Kochavi, the head of Israel’s military intelligence, said the President Assad was preparing his chemical arsenal for operational use, but that the order to use them had not yet been
Kochavi also noted that the Assad regime, in fighting the rebel forces, has steadily escalated its use of advanced weapon systems against civilians. The Syrian military has used SCUD and M-600 missiles on populated areas of the country. Kochavi said that so far, Syrian government forces have launched seventy missiles on civilian areas.
The anti-government rebels charged the Assad regime for the first confirmed use a chemical weapon in the two-year old civil war, saying the firing came hours after a coalition of anti-regime groups, meeting in Istanbul, elected Ghassan Hitto, a Syrian-American, to be the prime minister of a rebel-supported interim Syrian government.
The Assad regime and the Russian Foreign Ministry both accused the rebels for firing the chemical shell.
The official Syrian news agency, SANA, said: “Terrorists fired a rocket containing chemical substances in the Khan al-Assal area of rural Aleppo and initial reports indicate that around 15 people were killed, most of them civilians.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying: “A case of the use of chemical weapons by the armed opposition was recorded early in the morning of March 19 in Aleppo province. We are very seriously concerned by the fact that weapons of mass destruction are falling into the hands of the rebels, which further worsens the situation in Syria and elevates the confrontation in the country to a new level.”
The United States has been cautious in its reaction to the news.