The Israeli army has accused Damascus of using chemical weapons in the fight against anti-government forces. The remarks came as US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrapped up a three-day visit to Israel.
Israeli military's top intelligence analyst alleged Tuesday that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons, possibly nerve gas, on a number of occasions during the nation's bloody civil war.
"To the best of our professional understanding, the regime [of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] has made use of deadly chemical weapons against the rebels in a number of incidents in the last few months," Brigadier General Itai Brun told a security conference in Tel Aviv.
The military intelligence analyst cited an incident in the northern city of Aleppo on March 19 in which 31 people were killed. He said photos of the victims served as proof that the deadly gas had been employed.
"The reduced pupils, the foam coming out of the mouth and other additional signs provide evidence that deadly chemical weapons have been used," he said.
He identified Sarin as a possible nerve agent being used by the Syria regime. The colorless and odorless agent was developed as a pesticide in Germany in 1938.
Brun's remarks come a day after the US Defense Secretary said intelligence agencies were still investigating whether such weapons had been used.
"Currently our intelligence agencies are assessing what happened and what did not happen," Chuck Hagel said Monday.
Hagel met the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday. "This is a difficult and dangerous time, this is a time when friends and allies must remain close, closer than ever," Hagel told reporters ahead of his talks with Netanyahu, referring to the US and Israel.
Hagel later flew to Jordan for a meeting with army chief General Masbal al-Zaben.
US President Barack Obama had previously warned that the use of chemical weapons was a "red line" for the United States and would trigger unspecified US action. Hagel refused to comment, however, on possible "contingency options" if their use was verified.
According to UN estimates at least 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict first erupted in March 2011.
Two bishops kidnapped by rebels in a village in Aleppo Province on Monday were freed on Tuesday. The Christian clergy members Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Aleppo's Syriac Orthodox Church and Bishop Boulos Yaziji, head of the city's Greek Orthodox Church were reportedly carrying out humanitarian work when they were abducted at gunpoint.
ccp/jr (AFP, Reuters, dpa)