DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - The Syrian government is blaming foreign fighters for an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus yesterday.
Syria's deputy prime minister (Qadri Jamil) tells The Associated Press that foreign militants carried out the attack with the backing of Israel and supporters in the West, saying "no Syrian can do this against another Syrian." The opposition says the attack killed at least 100 people.
The deputy prime minister's comments support the government's narrative about the conflict - that Syria is under assault by foreign Islamic radicals. The argument has powerful resonance with the Syrian public as the presence of militants fighting alongside Syria's rebels increases.
Meanwhile, government forces continued to pummel the rebel strongholds where the alleged attack occurred with airstrikes and artillery for a second day. The violence is likely to hinder any investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon added his voice to international calls urging the Syrian government to allow a U.N. team now in Damascus to swiftly investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons outside the capital.