Nightly News   |  May 08, 2013

Chemical weapon debate obscures Syria massacres

Rebels who spoke with NBC News insist the Syrian government is using chemical weapons on its people, but as the world examines these claims, they say, the deaths of hundreds of people are being forgotten. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> the deadly civil war in syria which has now claimed by some estimates over 70,000 lives. the stories of atrocities have been tough to take. now the conflict there has taken on an added sense of urgency for the global community , the u.s. included, over these allegations of the use of chemical weapons by the assad regime. our chief foreign correspondent richard engel made his way back inside syria to investigate what is going on there. he is safely out again and joins us live tonight from just over the syrian border in turkey. richard, good evening.

>> good evening, brian. the use of chemical weapons has been seen as a trip wire for deeper u.s. involvement. but the syrian rebels are having a tough time proving it. rebels bring us into syria . laid waste by more than two years of war and constant brutality. we're taken to a headquarters bombed just days earlier to discuss allegations of chemical weapons . but the rebels want to talk about a massacre last week. hundreds dead, they claim -- butchered by assad 's forces. children and women are massacred daily. hundreds. aren't these war crimes , too, asks abu mohamed, a brigade commander . rebels say syrians die while world leaders nitpick claims of chemical weapons and rub their chins over what to do with assad , still in power, meeting today with iran's foreign minister as if nothing was wrong. a young activist shows us video he says is the aftermath of an attack. villagers choking, gas ing. among them, miriam al hatib, slipping in and out of consciousness. rebels blame chemical weapons , smoke, something dropped from a helicopter. they show us two photographs but experts say these devices resemble teargas canisters. a doctor tells us he treated al hatib. she was unconscious, sweating, he says. she had white liquid at the mouth. she was struggling to breathe and had small pupils. we are shown blood and urine samples. doctors say they collected from al hatib. evidence of a chemical attack , rebels say. it proves nothing.

>> we'll take it out and have a look.

>> reporter: a chemical weapons specialist contracted by nbc news tested the urine sample provided by the rebels and found no evidence of any chemical warfare agent . the dying continues in syria . and so do the questions. after talks in moscow there is now talk of a joint u.s.-russian diplomatic initiative. but there is no sign that we saw that any of the groups fighting on the ground in syria would actually accept it, brian.

>> richard engel across the border reporting live from turkey for