Defected Syrian General Claims He Was Ordered to Use Chemical Weapons

Former Assad army general asserts he used harmless substance instead; statement aired on an anti-Assad TV channel, raising questions over veracity of claims; Syrian rebels claim Assad used chemical weapons near Damascus last week.

A former army general who defected from the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army and joined the rebel forces claims he received orders to use chemical weapons in Syria's south.

Zahir al-Sakit says he was told to use the weapons against rebels and civilians in Busra al-Harir, located around 90 Kilometers south of Damascus in Deraa province, southern Syria.

Al-Sakit, who was interviewed on Syria's Al-Arabiya channel, claimed he instructed his soldiers to use a harmless liquid substance instead.

Al-Sakit defected to the rebel forces on March 15, and in a video he made for the occasion with his son - also an officer in the Syrian army - he did not refer to the incident. This fact, together with the timing of the statement and it's airing on a channel known for its anti-Assad stance, raises questions as to the veracity of the claims.

Arab and Western sources are quoted on pro-rebel social network channels as saying the claims warrant investigation.

The Syria National Coalition, the largest rebel organization in Syria claims that Assad's forces fired "missiles with chemical arms" near Damascus on Thursday and Friday. According to the organization, the spread of noxious gases caused 42 cases of choking, accompanied by allergic reactions and vomiting. The coalition called on the international community to investigate the matter. At the same time, Syrian Minister of Information Omran al-Zoubi says claims of chemical weapons use by Assad's forces are a "barefaced lie" by the U.S. and U.K. 

Meanwhile, Syrian newspaper Al-Tharwa warned on Sunday morning that the violence and destruction that are rampant in Syria will spill over to countries in the region, chiefly Turkey.

According to the paper's editorial, despite the massive aid armed rebel militias are receiving from Western intelligence agencies, the Syrian army has been successful in its efforts to repel them, and is making progress in strategically important areas. They also wrote that the chaos and destruction visited on Syria will soon reach the countries that are 'aiding the terrorists.'

Also on Sunday, the U.K.'s Sunday Times reported that Britain's chief of the defense staff, General David Richards, warned Prime Minister David Cameron that military intervention in Syria would carry with it a serious risk of pulling the country's armed forces into an all-out war, and would have to be conducted on a huge scale in order to succeed.

The Sunday Times also reported that the British Prime Minister condemned the apparent use of chemical weapons on civilians in Aleppo as a "war crime", and was not ruling out the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria.