Assad Forces Mull Use of Chemical Weapons in Homs, Opposition Says

Opposition figures claim government stockpiling chemical weapons and distributing gas masks to soldiers near Homs; 130 people reportedly killed on Thursday as government intensifies crackdown.

Zvi Bar'el
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Zvi Bar'el

Syria's military has begun stockpiling chemical weapons and equipping its soldiers with gas masks near the city of Homs, opposition sources reported on Thursday.

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Syrian rebels in Idlib, Feb. 9, 2012. Credit: AP

Opposition activists said they had received reports that the Syrian army had transferred a significant quantity of grenades and mortars containing chemical agents to a school building in Homs.

The opposition also reported that gas masks were being distributed to soldiers at roadblocks.

Homs has become the focal point of violent confrontations between insurgents and the country's military in recent days, and opposition figures are concerned that the moves could signal the regime's intention to use chemical weapons against its citizens.

News agencies reported over 130 killed in Syria on Thursday, as Bashar Assad's government intensified its crackdown on an expanding uprising against his regime.

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Demonstrations were reported on Thursday in Aleppo, Syria's second largest city, which had previously not seen large-scale protests against the government.

Meanwhile, an opposition website reported that an armored brigade of the Syrian military was headed toward the city of Zabadani, which has been held for the past ten days by the Free Syrian Army, the opposition's armed wing. The site speculated that the brigade would attempt to retake the city over the next two days.

Opposition sources said the ferocity of attacks by government forces against the cities of Homs, Idlib and Daraa had reached unprecedented levels of intensity over the past two days, with hospitals and clinics bombed and doctors arrested.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday said there was a need to continue to maintain pressure on Syria's government over its bloody crackdown on the country's opposition.

"Clearly what we are seeing on our television screens is completely unacceptable," Cameron told a news conference in Stockholm. "It really is appalling to see the destruction of Homs It is quite clear that this is a regime that is hell-bent on killing, murdering and maiming its own citizens."

Cameron added that there was a need to "take the toughest response we can" against Syria.

Arab League foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Saturday to discuss the organization's next steps on the crisis. The Arab League suspended its monitoring mission to Syria in late January due to the rising violence.

Approximately 6,000-7,000 people have died thus far in the 11-month uprising, which has become increasingly militarized in recent months.

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