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How deadly would chemical weapons in Syria be?

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Aref Hretani/Reuters

(Read caption) A view of damages on an empty street in the Aleppo district of Salaheddine, Syria, Dec. 5. Serious concerns have been raised about the Syrian regime using chemical weapons.

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Serious concerns have been raised about chemical weapons in Syria as unnamed US officials on Wednesday told NBC News that Syrian forces have loaded sarin, a deadly nerve gas, into bombs that can be dropped by planes.

The officials said the bombs had not been loaded onto planes and there was not yet a decision from Syria's leader to use them.

President Obama has said the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a “red line” that would draw the US into the war. Embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied that he’s planning to use them, unless international forces intervene. And Syrian officials have called recent accusations a “pretext for intervention.”

The international community is now debating if and how to respond to this latest development.

As the situation unfolds, for many unfamiliar with sarin gas there may be some question as to what it is and just how deadly it can be. Though it’s classified as a weapon of mass destruction and is extremely lethal, it is not in the same league as nuclear weapons.

“Chemical weapons are not nuclear weapons. In order to produce a lot of damage they have to be distributed very efficiently. The problem with them is that they can be very deadly and efficient if used in population centers and their effects are indiscriminate,” says Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

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