President Bashar al-Assad is using chemical weapons against rebel forces in Syria, a senior Israeli army officer told a conference on Tuesday.
“Assad is using chemical weapons in Syria,” said Brigadier General Itai Brun, head of research and analysis in the army's military intelligence division, in remarks quoted on the army's official Twitter feed.
Brigadier-General Itai Brun told a security conference photos of victims showing foam coming out of their mouths and contracted pupils were signs deadly gas had been used.
"To the best of our understanding, there was use of lethal chemical weapons. Which chemical weapons? Probably Sarin,"Brigadier-General Itai Brun said in remarks broadcast on ArmyRadio.
In a transcript of Brun's speech provided by the Israeli military, he said forces loyal to Syrian President Basharal-Assad were behind the attacks on "armed (rebels) on a number of occasions in the past few months".
Last week, the Syrian information minister dismissed a recent British report that a soil sample from Syrian territory has proven the use of chemical weapons in the war-torn country.
“The testing of Syrian soil, if not performed by an official and international organization and done without the consent of the Syrian government, has no political or legal value,” Omran al-Zoubi said, adding that the report was unfounded.
Zoubi accused Turkey, Britain and France of supplying the Syrian rebels with chemical weapons.
"Where did those who brought the rockets into Khan al-Assal get them from? Where did they get the chemical weapons from? They should ask Turkey, Britain, France and the other states about the source of these chemical weapons," he said.
The Times newspaper reported last Saturday that British military scientists discovered forensic evidence that chemical weapons have been used in the conflict in Syria.
Meanwhile, the army tweet came as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, at the end of a three-day trip which saw him touting strong backing for Israel.
Ahead of their talks, Netanyahu said the values and interests shared by Israel and the United States were facing a major threat from Iran which was supplying advanced weaponry to radical militants.
“Nowhere are these values and interests challenged more than by the arming of the terrorist groups by Iran with sophisticated weapons, and equally Iran's attempt to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” he told reporters.
“This is a challenge that Israel cannot accept, and as you and President Obama have repeatedly said, Israel must be able to defend itself by itself against any threat.”
His remarks came a day after Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon implicitly confirmed Israel was behind a January strike on a weapons convoy in Syria, saying the Jewish state had “acted” to stop advanced weaponry reaching militants.
Israeli officials believed the advanced Syria weaponry was en route to Lebanon's Hezbollah, a U.S. official told AFP.
The Shiite militia group and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad are both close allies of Iran and avowed enemies of Israel.
Netanyahu said the U.S.-Israeli defense relationship had been “greatly advanced” over the last four years and expressed confidence it would continue with Hagel running the Pentagon.
“This is important because we face many challenges. And I look forward to discussing how we overcome these challenges in our continued cooperation,” he said.
Hagel was quick to agree.
“This is a difficult and dangerous time, this is a time when friends and allies must remain close, closer than ever,” he told the Israeli leader.
On Monday, Hagel and Yaalon took a 90-minute helicopter of the Israeli occupied Golan Heights which borders Syria, saying it had given him a fresh perspective on the situation.