Atleast 70 dead after chemical attack in Douma

Chemical attack

HMN-BBC reports that atleast 70 have been killed in a suspected chemical attack in Douma.  Volunteer rescue squads have tweeted pictures of bodies allegedly found during rescue and recovery attempts.

Volunteer rescue force the White Helmets tweeted graphic images showing several bodies in basements. It said the deaths were likely to rise.

There has been no independent verification of the reports.

Syria has called the allegations of a chemical attack a “fabrication” – as has its main ally, Russia.

The US state department said Russia – with its “unwavering support” for Syria’s government – “ultimately bears responsibility” for the alleged attacks.

What do we know about the attack?

Several medical, monitoring and activist groups reported details of a chemical attack.

“Seventy people suffocated to death and hundreds are still suffocating,” said Raed al-Saleh, head of the White Helmets. An earlier, now deleted tweet, put the number dead at more than 150.

The pro-opposition Ghouta Media Center tweeted that more than 75 people had “suffocated”, while a further 1,000 people had suffered the effects of the alleged attack.

It blamed a barrel bomb allegedly dropped by a helicopter which it said contained Sarin, a toxic nerve agent.

The Union of Medical Relief Organizations, a US-based charity that works with Syrian hospitals, told the BBC the Damascus Rural Specialty Hospital had confirmed 70 deaths.

A spokeswoman said there were reports of people being treated for symptoms including convulsions and foaming of the mouth, consistent with nerve or mixed nerve and chlorine gas exposure.

Continued shelling overnight and on Sunday was making it impossible to reach victims.

As the allegations emerged, Syria’s state news agency Sana said the reports were invented by the Jaish al-Islam rebels who remain in control in Douma.

“Jaish al-Islam terrorists are in a state of collapse and their media outlets are [making] chemical attack fabrications in an exposed and failed attempt to obstruct advances by the Syrian Arab army,” Sana said.

Has the Syrian government used chemical weapons before?

In August 2013, rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin were fired at rebel-held areas of the Eastern Ghouta, killing hundreds of people.

A UN mission confirmed the use of Sarin, but it was not asked to state who was responsible. Western powers said only Syrian government forces could have carried out the attack.

In April 2017, more than 80 people died in a Sarin attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, and a joint inquiry by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the Syrian government responsible.

Activists, medics and the US say Syrian government forces dropped bombs containing toxic chlorine gas on rebel-held towns in early 2018.

The joint UN-OPCW mission is investigating the reports. It previously found that government forces have used chlorine as a weapon at least three times during the seven-year civil war.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied ever having used chemical weapons. It maintains that its entire chemical arsenal has been destroyed.

Could there be repercussions for Damascus?

Following the latest attack, the UK Foreign Office urged an international response.

But Russia said allegations of a chemical attack “were staged”.

US President Donald Trump ordered a cruise missile attack against Syria following the Khan Sheikhoun attack a year ago. Last month, the Washington Post newspaper reported that Mr Trump had discussed the possibility of another American attack on Syria with top security officials, but decided not to take action.

Days later, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis warned that it would be “unwise” for Syria to launch chemical attacks.

French President Emmanuel Macron has threatened to strike Syria if the government uses chemical weapons against civilians.

What’s happening in Douma?

Douma is the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta region, and is under siege from Russian-backed Syrian government forces.

An intense aerial and ground assault launched on Friday, after talks between Moscow and the rebels broke down, is said to have killed dozens of people.

Before negotiations failed, Jaish al-Islam had been trying to secure a deal that would let its members stay in Douma as a local security force.

More were feared to have been killed in new shelling on Sunday.

State media said six civilians had also died in rebel shelling of the capital Damascus, with 38 injured. Jaish al-Islam denied it was responsible.

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have recaptured almost the entire Eastern Ghouta region through a fierce offensive that started in February.

More than 1,600 people are reported to have been killed and thousands injured.

One comment

  1. Of course any group using chemical weapons would deny doing so. Why would they admit it? The ultimate fix for the problem is one bomb on the location where the chemical munitions are stored, dispersing the chemical agents in the user’s home area. Then let the world know what happened.

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