Syria rebels say scores dead in poison-gas attack

BEIRUT -- Syrian opposition activists Wednesday accused the government of killing scores of civilians, including women and children,  in a poison-gas assault on rebel strongholds outside Damascus.

The official Syrian news agency called the reports “untrue” and designed to derail a United Nations inquiry into charges of chemical weapons in the conflict.

Opposition activists say the number of dead may be in the hundreds.

There was no independent confirmation of the allegations.

A Syrian soldier takes position during a patrol in a rural area of Damascus in an undated photo (Courtesy LA Times Via Syrian News Agency)

The fresh allegations come as a U.N. inspection team is in Syria conducting a long-delayed investigation into charges of chemical weapons use there. Each side has accused the other of deploying chemical weapons in the more than two-year conflict.

The Syrian war has featured numerous allegations of massacres by both sides. A lack of access for journalists and human rights investigators has hampered independent investigations. Human rights groups say both sides have committed extra-judicial killings during the bloody conflict.

In its statement, the official Syrian news agency called the allegations of a chemical weapons attack “completely baseless,” and said the aim of the reports “is to distract the U.N. chemical weapons investigation commission away from its mission.”

Pro-opposition activists said the alleged chemical weapons attacks occurred early Wednesday in the so-called Ghouta region, an opposition bastion outside Damascus, the capital. The Syrian military has been methodically pursuing an offensive aimed at driving rebels away from the sprawling Ghouta zone and other areas near Damascus.

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