DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Syrian government is blaming foreign fighters for an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus yesterday.
Syria's deputy prime minister (Qadri Jamil) tells The Associated Press that foreign militants carried out the attack with the backing of Israel and supporters in the West, saying "no Syrian can do this against another Syrian." The opposition says the attack killed at least 100 people.
The deputy prime minister's comments support the government's narrative about the conflict — that Syria is under assault by foreign Islamic radicals. The argument has powerful resonance with the Syrian public as the presence of militants fighting alongside Syria's rebels increases.
Meanwhile, government forces continued to pummel the rebel strongholds where the alleged attack occurred with airstrikes and artillery for a second day. The violence is likely to hinder any investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon added his voice to international calls urging the Syrian government to allow a U.N. team now in Damascus to swiftly investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons outside the capital.
134-c-13-(Bassem Mroue (BAH'-sehm MROO'-eh), AP correspondent)-"as air raids"-AP correspondent Bassem Mroue reports Syrian troops are continuing to attack rebel-held suburbs east of Damascus. ((watch for dating)) (22 Aug 2013)
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135-c-09-(Bassem Mroue (BAH'-sehm MROO'-eh), AP correspondent)-"people were killed"-AP correspondent Bassem Mroue reports the Syrian government's offensive appears to be targeting the same area east of Damascus where an alleged chemical weapons attack took place. (22 Aug 2013)
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136-c-13-(Bassem Mroue (BAH'-sehm MROO'-eh), AP correspondent)-"investigate the site"-AP correspondent Bassem Mroue reports that while Syria denies using chemical weapons, western governments want the Assad regime to allow U.N. investigators into the area so they can check for themselves. (22 Aug 2013)
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159-a-14-(Khalid Saleh (HAH'-led sah-LEH'), spokesman, Syrian National Coalition opposition group, in AP interview)-"these chemical weapons"-Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian opposition, charges the Syrian regime with more than a dozen chemical weapons attacks and urges nations to take the allegations more seriously. (22 Aug 2013)
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158-a-11-(Khalid Saleh (HAH'-led sah-LEH'), spokesman, Syrian National Coalition opposition group, in AP interview)-"of that team"-Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian opposition, says rebel leaders will protect U.N. investigators if they can get to the area of the alleged gas attack. (22 Aug 2013)
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APPHOTO BEI118: In this citizen journalism photo provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a man and woman mourn over the dead bodies of Syrian men after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. Syrian regime forces fired intense artillery and rocket barrages Wednesday on the eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus, in what two pro-opposition groups claimed was a "poisonous gas" attack that killed dozens of people. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen) (21 Aug 2013)
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APPHOTO CAI: This image provided by by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show several bodies being buried in a suburb of Damascus, Syria during a funeral on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. Syrian government forces pressed their offensive in eastern Damascus on Thursday, bombing rebel-held suburbs where the opposition said the regime had killed more than 100 people the day before in a chemical weapons attack. The government has denied allegations it used chemical weapons in artillery barrages on the area known as eastern Ghouta on Wednesday as "absolutely baseless." (AP Photo/Shaam News Network) (22 Aug 2013)
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