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Some 200 people were killed over the weekend in a suspected chemical attack in Douma, a city 10 km. northeast of Damascus, Syria. Over 1,000 were wounded.
The opposition-affiliated Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, said that most of the fatalities were women and children.
Douma is the last rebel-held stronghold near Syria’s capital, controlled by Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam). The death toll was expected to rise as many people were in critical condition.
Raed al-Saleh, head of the White Helmets rescue group, told Al Jazeera that chlorine gas, as well as an unidentified but stronger gas, possibly sarin, were dropped on Douma.
“White Helmet volunteers are trying to help the people, but all what we can do is evacuate them to another areas by foot because most of the vehicles and centers went out of service,” al-Saleh said.
One member of White Helmets told Al Jazeera that an entire family suffocated to death as they hid in their cellar, trying to seek shelter from air raids and barrel bombs.
The Syrian official SANA news denied that Assad government forces had used chemical weapons. An official Syrian source told SANA in a statement that media affiliates of Jaish al-Islam terrorists are repeating the allegations of using chemical weapons “in order to accuse the Syrian Arab army, in a blatant attempt to hinder the Army’s advance.”
The source added that the Syrian Arab Army, which “is making a swift and determined advance,” does not need to use any chemical materials as “claimed by terrorists’ media affiliates.”
“The chemical fabrications, which did not serve the terrorists and their sponsors in Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta, will not serve them today either, as the Syrian state is determined to end terrorism in every square inch of Syrian territory,” the official source added.
‘Demand an immediate response’
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that Washington was closely following “disturbing reports” of the alleged chemical weapons attack on a Douma hospital.
“These reports, if confirmed, are horrifying and demand an immediate response by the international community,” Nauert said in a statement.
A similar attack prompted the Trump administration to bomb several Assad targets exactly a year ago.
The alleged chemical attacks occurred as Syrian government forces pressed their offensive against the last rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta under the cover of airstrikes and as shelling of civilian areas on both sides claimed more lives.
Syrian government forces resumed their offensive on Douma on Friday afternoon after a 10-day truce collapsed over disagreement regarding evacuation of rebel fighters. Violence resumed days after hundreds of opposition fighters and their relatives left Douma toward rebel-held areas in northern Syria.
Featured image credit: Link