BEIRUT (AP) - Syria's government and rebels on Wednesday both demanded an international investigation into an alleged chemical weapons attack, as the country's feared arsenal became the latest propaganda tool in the 2-year-old civil war.
President Barack Obama said the United States is investigating whether chemical weapons have been deployed in Syria, but noted that he is "deeply skeptical" of claims by President Bashar Assad's regime that rebel forces were behind such an attack.
"Once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer," Obama said in a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
The use of chemical weapons by either side is a nightmare scenario. Along with its warnings about Assad, the West is just as concerned that rebel forces, including some linked to al-Qaida, could get their hands on Syria's chemical weapons supplies.
Despite the importance, any clear confirmation of the nature of the attack that took place Tuesday in the northern village of Khan al-Assal, killing at least 31 people, is unlikely. Syria's government seals off areas it controls to journalists and outside observers.
The two sides blamed each other for a chemical attack without offering clear proof or documentation, as has frequently been the case in the Syrian civil war.
If confirmed, it would be the first time a chemical weapon has been used in Syria's war that has already killed an estimated 70,000 people.
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari told reporters at the United Nations Wednesday that he had asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to form "a specialized, independent and neutral technical mission to investigate the use by the terrorist groups operating in Syria of chemical weapons" in Khan al-Assal.
Jaafari called the attack "very serious and alarming and unacceptable and unethical."
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said he would have something to say "once we receive any formal request, which we have so far not received." He said the secretary-general remains convinced that the use of chemical weapons by any party under any circumstances would constitute "an outrageous crime."
Syria's main opposition group also demanded an international investigation.
"All evidence now indicates that the Assad regime is using these weapons against its own people," the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said.
"The Coalition demands a full international investigation, and asks for a delegation to be sent to inquire and visit the site," the group said in a statement.