Dozens Reported Killed in Alleged Syria Gas Attack

April 8, 2018 Updated: April 8, 2018

A chemical attack on a rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta killed dozens of people, a medical relief organization and a rescue service said, and Washington said the reports – if confirmed – would demand an immediate international response.

The BBC reported that at least 70 people may have been killed in the attack, while other reports suggest that around 40 died. A tweet that was later deleted put the number of dead at 150

“Seventy people suffocated to death and hundreds are still suffocating,” said Raed al-Saleh, head of the volunteer rescue force White Helmets.

A joint statement by the medical relief organization Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the civil defense, which operates in rebel-held areas, said 49 people had died.

Syria denied government forces had launched any chemical attack as reports began circulating on Saturday night. The government said rebels in the eastern Ghouta town of Douma were collapsing and spreading false news.

“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,” state news agency SANA said, the BBC reported.

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 an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma were “horrifying” and would, if confirmed, “demand an immediate response by the international community”.

President Donald Trump slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin over the attack, saying that Assad’s supporters would pay the price in the end.

“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” he tweeted. “Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world.”

He wrote: “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”

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. After a lull of a few days, government forces began bombarding Douma again on Friday.

The offensive in Ghouta has been one of the deadliest of the seven-year-long war, killing more than 1,600 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauret recalled a 2017 sarin gas attack in northwestern Syria that the West and the United Nations blamed on Assad’s government. “The Assad regime and its backers must be held accountable and any further attacks prevented immediately,” she said.

“The United States calls on Russia to end this unmitigated support immediately and work with the international community to prevent further, barbaric chemical weapons attacks,” Nauert said in a statement.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons during the conflict.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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