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New chemical claims emerge in Syria

BEIRUT -- New claims have emerged that President Bashar al-Assad's regime may have launched attacks with an industrial chemical earlier this month, despite an international agreement to eliminate Syria's chemical arsenal.

The latest evidence, cited by the United States and France, comes as Syria plans to hold a June 3 presidential poll, which the United Nations and the Syrian opposition have slammed as a “farce” that flies in the face of efforts to end the country's three-year war.

“We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine, in Syria this month, in the opposition-dominated village of Kafr Zita,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday.

“We are examining allegations that the government was responsible.”

The revelation follows Sunday's announcement by French President Francois Hollande that his country had “information” — but no proof — that Assad's regime was still using chemical weapons.

There have been conflicting accounts of an alleged chlorine gas attack in opposition-held Kafr Zita in the central Hama province earlier this month, with the government and the opposition trading blame.

Activists have also reported other chlorine gas attacks, most recently on Monday in the northwestern Idlib province.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and other experts have spent months working to remove Syria's chemical stockpiles, following an agreement reached after deadly chemical attacks near Damascus last August that killed hundreds.

The OPCW said last week that 65 percent of Syria's stated chemical weapons have been removed from the country.

Although chlorine is a toxic chemical, it is widely used for commercial and domestic purposes, so Syria was not required to submit its stockpiles to the OPCW, a chemical weapons expert told AFP.

“However, as a chemical weapon it is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention,” which Syria joined last year, said Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, CEO of SecureBio, a British chemical weapons consultancy.

“The delivery method that we've seen — the use of helicopters — I am certain the opposition don't have any helicopters.”

On Tuesday, fighting raged in flashpoints across the country, while the air force struck rebel areas of Aleppo city, keeping up an aerial offensive the regime launched in December.

Jihadist sources meanwhile said German rapper-turned-militant Denis Mamadou Cuspert, who performed under the name Deso Dogg but took on the name Abu Talha al-Almani in Syria, was killed in a suicide bombing on Sunday carried out by rival fighters.

He had joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and was reportedly killed by Al-Nusra Front, a rival jihadist group that is al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate.

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