Syrian troops find chemical agents in tunnels used by rebels: state TV

By Oliver Holmes
BEIRUT | Sat Aug 24, 2013 9:51am EDT

(Reuters) – Syrian state television said soldiers found chemical materials on Saturday in tunnels that had been used by rebels, rejecting blame for a nerve gas attack that killed hundreds this week and heightened Western calls for foreign intervention.

The United States said it was realigning naval forces in the Mediterranean to give President Barack Obama the option for an armed strike on Syria and a senior U.N. official arrived in Damascus to seek access for inspectors to the gas attack site.

Syrian opposition accounts that between 500 and well over 1,000 civilians were killed by gas in munitions fired by pro-government forces, and video footage of victims’ bodies, have stoked demands abroad for a robust, U.S.-led response after 2-1/2 years of international inaction on Syria’s conflict.

In an attempt to strengthen the government’s denials of responsibility for the chemical assault in Damascus’s embattled suburbs, Syrian TV said soldiers came across chemical agents in rebel tunnels during an advance into the Jobar district.

“Army heroes are entering the tunnels of the terrorists and saw chemical agents,” it quoted a “news source” as saying. “In some cases, soldiers are suffocating while entering Jobar. Ambulances came to rescue the people suffocating.”

Soldiers discovered a cache of gas masks and imported pills used to ward off exposure to chemical attacks, it said, promising to air footage of “material and drums” later. The report could not be independently confirmed.

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