(Reuters) - Syria's opposition accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of gassing many hundreds of people - by one report as many as 1,300 - on Wednesday in what would, if confirmed, be the world's worst chemical weapons attack in decades.
Unlike previous such reports, this one is backed with many YouTube videos showing symptoms consistent with Sarin poisoning:
DEBKAfile reports exclusively that Assad is acting to counter the first organized incursion of US-trained Syrian rebels from Jordan into southern Syria. The first group of 250 rebels, trained in special operations tactics by US and Jordanian instructors, entered Syria Saturday, Aug. 17, armed with weapons of Russian provenance supplied by the US and Saudi Arabia.
They are fighting under US and Jordanian commanders based in the Hashemite Kingdom.
A second group of 300 fighters crossed into Syria from Jordan Monday.
They are linking up with local rebel groups chosen from amongst those with no ties with the jihadist Jabhat al-Nusra (Al Qaeda in Syria).
According to our military sources, the rebel units are advancing at speed along the Syrian-Israeli border. They have forced the Syrian brigades posted there into retreating from positions inside a strip of 1-25 kilometers from the border, and captured the villages of Raihaniya, Breiqa and Beer Ajam.
This tactic has moved the Syrian army back from the area opposite the Israeli Golan, and started marking out a buffer zone between Israeli and Syrian forces in the Horan province.
Notably, this incident comes as a U.N. team of inspectors arrived in Damascus next to the location of the reported Sarin attack.
Here is BBC's Security Correspondent, Frank Gardner's analysis on this:
Two things stand out immediately in this reported Syrian attack.
Firstly, the timing is odd, bordering on suspicious. Why would the Assad government, which has recently been retaking ground from the rebels, carry out a chemical attack while UN weapons inspectors are in the country?
But secondly, the scale of the apparent casualties is far worse than any of the previous alleged chemical attacks. Experts say it would be almost impossible to fake so many dead and injured, including children and babies. They bear no visible wounds from gunshots; instead, many display the classic symptoms of a nerve agent attack, with startled, frozen expressions that experts say are reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's 1988 attack on the Kurds at Halabja.
As earlier reported by Reuters (and since substantially redacted):
The timing and location of the reported chemical weapons use - just three days after the team of U.N. chemical experts checked in to a Damascus hotel a few km (miles) to the east at the start of their mission - was surprising.
"It would be very peculiar if it was the government to do this at the exact moment the international inspectors come into the country," said Rolf Ekeus, a retired Swedish diplomat who headed a team of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq in the 1990s.
"At the least, it wouldn't be very clever."
Ekeus said the mandate of the U.N. team was limited to three sites but could be amended to investigate fresh claims - which would be simpler to verify than the other months-old cases.
"It is easier to do sampling and testing, and also to look at the victims, if there are sick people or even dead people (on the scene). It is easier to get to doctors and get to the place where the event happened."
What's Bashar Assad, and his Russian puppet master, up to?
Coverage of this story is ongoing HERE.