US sees signs of new chemical attack in Syria

The United States has seen indications that a toxic industrial chemical was used in Syria this month, the State Department said Monday.

Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters there are signs that “toxic industrial chemicals” were used in a village controlled by rebels and it was “probably chlorine.” She declined to describe the chlorine as a chemical weapon.

Obama administration officials are still “looking into these reports,” she said.

“We’re still determining what the best mechanism is to get to the bottom of the facts."

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Psaki said the State Department is investigating whether the Syrian government was responsible for using the chemical agent.

The White House said the reported attack occurred in Kafr Zaita.

"We're working to determine what happened," White House press seceretary Jay Carney said. "Once that has been established we can talk about what reaction, if any, or response, if any, there would be from the international community."

On Sunday, French President François Hollande said France has “information” Syrian forces have used chemical weapons recently, and he described them as toxic gases. 

Syrian opposition and rebel groups in the south of the country have claimed gas has been used nine times in the last two months, The Guardian newspaper reported. More than 10 people have died, and the gas has affected hundreds more, they said.

Hollande told Europe Radio 1 channel that the recent attacks were "much less significant than those in Damascus ... but very deadly."

Last August, a chemical weapon attack in the suburbs of Damascus killed more than 1,400 people.

In response, the Obama administration geared up to launch a military strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, but the president backed down after Russia helped facilitate a diplomatic deal to rid the country of its chemical weapons.

Despite the reports about new attacks, nearly 80 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons have been removed from Syria, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced last week. 

Syria has said casualties resulted from two recent attacks, but officials blamed Jabhat al-Nusra, a rebel group aligned with al Qaeda, The Guardian noted.

The Assad government, meanwhile, announced Monday that the next presidential election will be held on June 3.

More than 100,000 people have died in the civil war, which began in 2011.

Justin Sink contributed.

— This story was updated at 2:57 p.m.