A chemical attack on a rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta has killed dozens of people, medical services reported, and Washington said the reports – if confirmed – would demand an immediate international response.
A joint statement by the medical relief organization Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the civil defense service, which operates in rebel-held areas, said 49 people had died in the attack late on Saturday. Others put the toll at 150 or more.
The Russian-backed Syrian state denied government forces had launched any chemical attack as the reports began circulating and said the rebels were collapsing and fabricating news.
President Trump laid the blame squarely on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Assad’s allies on Sunday morning, tweeting that “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad” and calling the attack “another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever.”
First responders said they found families suffocated in their homes and shelters, with foam on their mouths. The opposition-linked Syrian Civil Defense were able to document 42 fatalities but were impeded from searching further by strong odors that gave their rescuers difficulties breathing, said Siraj Mahmoud, a spokesman for the group, which is known as the White Helmets
The lifeless bodies of around a dozen children, women and men, some of them with foam at the mouth, were shown in one video circulated by activists. “Douma city, April 7 … there is a strong smell here,” a voice can be heard saying.
The U.S. State Department said reports of mass casualties from the attack were “horrifying” and would, if confirmed, “demand an immediate response by the international community”.
Britain’s Foreign Office also called the reports, if confirmed, “very concerning” and said “an urgent investigation is needed and the international community must respond. We call on the Assad regime and its backers, Russia and Iran, to stop the violence against innocent civilians.”
It said the symptoms were consistent with chemical exposure. One patient, a woman, had convulsions and pinpoint pupils, suggesting exposure to a nerve agent. The pro-opposition Ghouta Media Center alleged that government forces dropped a barrel bomb containing the nerve agent Sarin, BBC News reports.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that Washington was closely following “disturbing reports” of the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma.
“These reports, if confirmed, are horrifying and demand an immediate response by the international community,” she said in a statement late Saturday. Last week, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haleyto Assad against the use of chemical weapons. A spokesman from the U.K. mission to the U.N. said Sunday that “an urgent investigation is needed and the international community must respond.”
Videos posted online by the White Helmets showed victims, including toddlers in diapers, breathing through oxygen masks at makeshift hospitals.
Syrian government forces resumed their offensive on rebel-held Douma on Friday afternoon after a 10-day truce collapsed over disagreement regarding the evacuation of Army of Islam fighters. Violence resumed days aftertoward rebel-held areas in northern Syria. Douma is the last rebel stronghold in eastern Ghouta.
The alleged gas attack in Douma comes almost exactly a year after a chemical attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people. That attack prompted the U.S. to launchat a Syrian air base. Mr. Trump said the attack was meant to deter further Syrian use of illegal weapons.
Via CBS News and Reuters