Moscow: The Russian military said on Friday its officers have found evidence of chemical weapons use by Syrian militants in the northern area of Aleppo where government forces are trying to regain control of areas they recently lost to insurgents.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov said that ministry experts have found unexploded ordnance and fragments of munitions containing chlorine and white phosphorus on Aleppo's southwestern outskirts.
Konashenkov said the discovery proves the militants have used chemical weapons against civilians and Syrian Army soldiers.
Russia is asking the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to send its experts to the site, Konashenkov said, adding that munitions fragments and ground samples collected at the site will be handed over to the international chemical weapons watchdog.
One of the main Syrian opposition groups, the Syrian National Coalition, denied that rebels used chemical weapons in Aleppo saying that the shells that were fired are similar to those used by government forces and militias fighting with them.
The SNC called on UN organisations to open an investigation into the case.
The announcement comes as the Syrian government and Russia appear to be preparing for an all-out offensive on the besieged eastern parts of Aleppo that are held by opposition fighters.
Pro-Syrian media outlets in Lebanon have been reporting that heavy reinforcements have been arriving in Aleppo over the past weeks in preparation for the attack.
The Interfax news agency reported today that jets from the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov have been flying over Syria over the past few days to survey the area in preparation for future combat missions. It said that preparations are underway for the carrier and escorting ships to launch strikes against militants.
The carrier group's mission near Syria's shores marks the largest Russian naval deployment since the Soviet collapse. It allows the military to test its carrier-borne fighters in combat for the first time.
The Admiral Kuznetsov carries about 20 fighter jets, adding to some 30 warplanes Russia has at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria's coastal province of Lattakia.
The US and its allies have pushed for sanctions on the Syrian government for using chemical weapons. Russia has questioned international investigators' conclusions linking chemical weapons use to the Syrian government and pointed at evidence of their use by the militants.