Assad forces accused of using chemical agents

Assad's forces have been on the offensive around Damascus after rebels intensified their efforts to fight.

A Lebanese supporter of the March 14 movement, which opposes the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, protests in Beirut on 21 October 2012. Picture: AFP/Joseph Eid

BEIRUT - Syrian activists accused forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday of using chemical agents during the heavy bombardment of rebel-held areas around Damascus.

The reported use of the chemical agents could not be immediately verified. It coincides with a visit to Damascus by a United Nations team of chemical weapons experts.

Activists from the grassroots Local Coordination Committee reported at least 30 bodies had been brought to one field hospital in Kafr Batna neighbourhood a few km east of central Damascus.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of people were killed, including children, in fierce bombardment. It said Mouadamiya, southwest of the capital, came under the heaviest attack since the start of the two-year conflict.

It called on the UN chemical experts and international organisations to visit the affected areas to ensure aid could be delivered and to "launch an investigation to determine who was responsible for the bombardment and hold them to account."

Syrian authorities and rebels have accused each other of using chemical agents in the course of the civil war, in which 100,000 people have been killed.

More than 100,000 people have died in Syria's civil war and millions have been displaced. Protesters took to the streets in March 2011 to call for democratic reforms but were fired on by security forces, leading to an armed uprising.

Last week thousands of Syrian refugees poured into the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq on, taking advantage of a new bridge along the largely closed border, the United Nations said on Friday.

Most were families with women, children and the elderly, mainly from Aleppo, Hassakeh and other embattled areas of Syria where fighting has intensified in the civil war, now in its third year, that has driven nearly two million refugees abroad.

There are already more than 150,000 Syrian refugees registered in Iraq, according to the UNHCR which has urged all neighbouring countries to keep open their borders to Syrians needing international protection.