Syria ‘chemical attack’ kills 49


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 organisation Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the civil defence 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 Syrian government denied government forces had launched any chemical attack as the reports began circulating and said the rebels were fabricating news.

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 could be heard saying.

U.S. President Donald Trump said the perpetrators would be made to pay a ‘big price’. “Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria.… President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay,” he tweeted.

Britain’s Foreign Office called the reports, if confirmed, “very concerning” and said “an urgent investigation is needed and the international community must respond”.

Russia, however, dismissed the reports. “We decidedly refute this information,” Major-General Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian peace and reconciliation centre in Syria, was cited as saying by Interfax news service.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has won back control of nearly all of Eastern Ghouta in a Russian-backed military campaign that began in February, leaving just Douma in rebel hands.

Facing military defeat, rebel groups in other parts of Eastern Ghouta have taken safe passage to other opposition-held areas at the Turkish border.

Jaish to negotiate?

Until now, Jaish al-Islam has rejected that option, demanding it be allowed to stay in Douma. However, Syrian state television said on Sunday that Jaish al-Islam had asked for negotiations with the government. A pro-Syrian opposition TV station, Orient, said talks were under way between Jaish al-Islam and Russia to reach a final settlement for Douma.

The Syrian Observatory said it could not confirm whether chemical weapons had been used in the attack on Saturday. Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said 11 people had died in Douma as a result of suffocation caused by heavy bombardment. Medical relief organisation SAMS said a chlorine bomb hit Douma hospital, killing six people, and a second attack with ”mixed agents”, including nerve agents, had hit a nearby building.

Basel Termanini, the U.S.-based vice president of SAMS, which operates medical facilities and supports medics in Syria, told Reuters that another 35 people had been killed at a nearby apartment building, most of them women and children.

The joint statement from SAMS and the civil defence said medical centres had taken in more than 500 people suffering breathing difficulties, frothing from the mouth and smelling of chlorine.

Syrian state news agency SANA said Jaish al-Islam was making ”chemical attack fabrications in an exposed and failed attempt to obstruct advances by the Syrian Arab army,” citing an official source.



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