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New claims have emerged that President Bashar al-Assad's regime may have launched attacks with an industrial chemical earlier this month, despite an international agreement to eliminate Syria's chemical arsenal.
The latest evidence, cited by US and French authorities, comes as Syria plans to hold a June 3 presidential poll, which the United Nations and the Syrian opposition have slammed as a "farce" that flies in the face of efforts to end the country's three-year war.
"We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine, in Syria this month, in the opposition-dominated village of Kafr Zita," White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday.
"We are examining allegations that the government was responsible."
The revelation follows Sunday's announcement by French President Francois Hollande that his country had "information" -- but no proof -- that Assad's regime was still using chemical weapons.
There have been conflicting accounts of an alleged chlorine gas attack in opposition-held Kafr Zita in the central Hama province earlier this month, with the government and the opposition trading blame.
Activists have also reported other chlorine gas attacks, most recently yesterday in the northwestern Idlib province.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and other experts have spent months working to remove Syria's chemical stockpiles, following an agreement reached after deadly chemical attacks near Damascus last August that killed hundreds.
Western nations blamed those attacks on the Assad regime and the United States threatened military action before backing down and reaching a deal with Russia to eliminate the chemical weapons.
The OPCW said last week that 65 per cent of Syria's stated chemical weapons have been removed from the country.
Although chlorine is a toxic chemical, it is widely used for commercial and domestic purposes, so Syria was not required to submit its stockpiles to the OPCW, a chemical weapons expert told AFP.