Did Assad use poison gas on a rebel-held neighborhood in Homs?
Al-Jazeera is reporting that medics treating casualties in a rebel neighborhood in the city of Homs believe that some of the wounded were victims of a poison gas attack.
Here's the video. (Warning: The video graphically shows a victim struggling to breathe.)
Here's another video with more apparent victims of a gas attack.
Seven people have died in Homs after they inhaled a poisonous gas sprayed by government forces in a rebel-held neighbourhood, activists said.
Activists also told Al Jazeera that scores of others were affected in al-Bayyada neighbourhood. Side effects reported include nausea, relaxed muscles, blurred vision, and breathing difficulties.
Residents said they did not know the nature of the gas sprayed.
"The situation is very difficult. We do not have enough facemasks. We don't know what this gas is but medics are saying it's something similar to Sarin gas," Raji Rahmet Rabbou, an activist in Homs, told Al Jazeera.
Was the attack was staged by the rebels? It's possible. Faking a gas attack would certainly create sympathy for the rebels and anger at the Assad regime. And we shouldn't put it past the rebels to stoop to such tactics.
But what if it's true? Assad's forces could be testing the best way to employ their gas weapons. Not that they are squeamish about civilian casualties - they just bombed a bakery where hundreds of civilians were killed or injured waiting for bread - but keeping civilian deaths to a minimum might make western powers hesitate about intervening. Testing the deployment of gas in one neighborhood and then measuring the effects could mean that the Assad regime is preparing to use chemical weapons on a much larger scale.
What is needed is independent verification that gas was used in this neighborhood. That is not likely to be forthcoming because Homs is a besieged city and regime forces are not likely to let anyone in.