Extensive preparations by Syrian army units for launching chemical weapons against rebel forces have been sighted in the northern town of Homs, Western intelligence agencies told DEBKAfile’s military sources Tuesday, March 19.
Damascus paved the way for resorting to unconventional weaponry with an accusation run by the state news agency SANA Tuesday that Syrian rebels had fired a rocket containing chemical substances in the Khan al-Assal area of rural Aleppo, allegedly killing 15 people, mostly civilians.
Rebels quickly denied the report and accused regime forces of “firing a chemical weapon on a long-range SCUD, after which 20 people died of asphyxia and poisoning.”
Neither of the accusations could immediately verified.
But a Reuters photographer said he had seen people come into two Aleppo hospitals with breathing problems after the attack. They claimed people were suffocating on the streets.
Western intelligence sources reckoned that for the Assad regime, Homs, the scene of fierce battles between government and rebel forces in recent days, is likely to be the first place where the Assad government resorts to chemical warfare. A rebel victory there would be a grave setback for the regime because it would sever the main highway linking the Syrian military forces fighting in the towns of Damascus, Latakia, Aleppo and Idlib.
Monday and Tuesday, therefore, heavy government reinforcements from the South and Damascus were piled onto the embattled town, along with large numbers of warplanes and attack helicopters, in an all-out effort to cut short the rebel advance.