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Syrian officials deny use of chemical weapons

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Two Syrian officials denied Friday that government forces had used chemical weapons against rebels, the first response from President Bashar Assad's regime to U.S. assertions that it had deployed such weapons during the 2-year-old civil war.

On Thursday, the White House and other top Obama administration officials said that U.S. intelligence had concluded with "varying degrees of confidence" that the Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons in its battle against rebels trying to oust Assad.

In the Syrian capital of Damascus, a government official said Assad's military "did not and will not use chemical weapons even if it had them." Instead, he accused opposition forces of using them in a March attack on the village of Khan al-Assal outside of the northern city of Aleppo, the largest in Syria. The official said the Syrian army had no need to use chemical weapons because it can reach any area in Syria it wants without them.

He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements.

His comments were echoed by Sharif Shehadeh, a Syrian lawmaker, who said the Syrian army "can win the war with traditional weapons" and has no need for chemical weapons.

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