Syrian Regime Forces Use Chemical Weapons in Douma
US Blames Russia for Latest Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack
Syrian opposition activists and rescuers said Sunday that a poison gas attack on a rebel-held town near the capital has killed at least 40 people, allegations denied by the Syrian government.
The alleged attack in the town of Douma occurred late Saturday amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce.
The reports could not be independently verified.
The United States has called on Russia to end its support for the Syrian government immediately and “work with the international community to prevent further, barbaric chemical weapons attacks.”
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that the United States is closely following the reports April 7 of another alleged chemical weapons attack, this time targeting a hospital in Douma, Syria.
The statement said “Russia, with its unwavering support for the regime, ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks, targeting of countless civilians, and the suffocation of Syria’s most vulnerable communities with chemical weapons.”
Russia Denies Chemical Attack in Douma
Russia dismissed reports of a deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Douma, Interfax news service reported Sunday, citing Russia’s Ministry of Defense.
“We decidedly refute this information,” Major-General Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian peace and reconciliation center in Syria, was cited as saying.
“We hereby announce that we are ready to send Russian specialists in radiation, chemical and biological defense to collect information, as soon as Douma is freed from militants. This will confirm the trumped-up nature of these statements,” Yevtushenko is quoted as saying.
Opposition-linked first responders, known as the White Helmets, reported the attack, saying entire families were found suffocated in their homes and shelters. It reported a death toll from suffocation of more than 40, saying the victims showed signs of gas poisoning including pupil dilation and foaming at the mouth. In a statement, however, it reported a smell resembling chlorine, which would not explain the described symptoms, usually associated with sarin gas.
It said around 500 people were treated for suffocation and other symptoms, adding that most medical facilities and ambulances were put out of service because of the shelling.
Rebels claimed Syrian government forces dropped barrel bombs containing poisonous chemicals on civilians Saturday, as Syria continued its offensive against the last rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta
Syrian state media denied the rebels’ claim, as troops launched an assault on Douma, near the capital Damascus.
Chlorine Bomb Hits Douma Hospital
SAMS said a chlorine bomb hit Douma hospital, however Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said he could not confirm the use of chemical weapons.
The Syrian American Medical Society, a relief organization, said 41 people were killed and hundreds wounded.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 80 people were killed in Douma on Saturday, including around 40 who died from suffocation. But it said the suffocations were the result of shelters collapsing on people inside.
Videos posted online by the White Helmets purportedly showed victims, including toddlers in diapers, breathing through oxygen masks at makeshift hospitals.
The weekend’s fighting comes after some rebel groups in Ghouta accepted safe passage to rebel-held areas northeast of Aleppo.
The cease-fire effectively ended Friday, when Syrian troops have launched a ground and air assault on Douma.
State television showed live footage Friday of thick smoke billowing from different parts of Douma, the largest city in Ghouta. It said Republican Guard forces were pushing in on the town, where the Jaish al-Islam rebel group is holding out.
Syria Blames Jaish al-Islam Rebels for the Chemical Attack
Russia said last week that Jaish al-Islam accepted a deal to leave Ghouta, which houses tens of thousands of people. However, the evacuations stalled over reports that the rebel group remained divided over the withdrawal.
The Syrian government said it had started negotiations Sunday with the rebel group Jaish al-Islam, hours after the suspected chemical attack.
There was no immediate comment from Jaish al-Islam, which said the government carried out the chemical attack.
Trump Comdemns Russia for “Mindless Chemical Attack”
U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran on Sunday for a “mindless chemical attack” in Syria that killed at least 40 people, vowing there would be a “big price to pay.”
In a rare direct condemnation of the Russian leader, Trump declared, “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible” for their support of “Animal Assad,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Big price to pay,” Trump said in one of a string of Twitter comments. “Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”
Trump did not say how the U.S. might respond. But Homeland Security and counterterrorism adviser Thomas Bossert told ABC News, “I wouldn’t take anything off the table,” leaving open the possibility of a new missile strike like the one Trump ordered a year ago after another Syrian chemical weapons attack.
The United Nations Security Council will meet Monday about the alleged attack, after nine countries demanded an urgent session. The European Union said “evidence points toward yet another chemical attack” by the Syrian regime.
Trump described the area where the “atrocity” occurred in Douma near the Syrian capital, Damascus, as “in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world.”
But Trump also said that if his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, “had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand,” to hold Assad accountable for previous chemical attacks, “the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!”
The alleged chemical attack, denied by both the Syrian government and Russia, occurred late Saturday amid new attacks on the last rebel enclave in eastern Ghouta.
First responders said they discovered families suffocated in their homes and shelters with foam on their mouths. Relief workers said more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were brought to medical centers with difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth and their eyes burning.
The Civil Defense and Syrian American Medical Society said patients gave off a chlorine-like smell, and some had blue skin, an indication of oxygen deprivation.
The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected claims of a chemical attack, saying, “The spread of bogus stories about the use of chlorine and other poisonous substances by [Syrian] government forces continues.
“We have warned several times recently against such dangerous provocations,” the Moscow statement said. “The aim of such deceitful speculation, lacking any kind of grounding, is to shield terrorists and to attempt to justify possible external uses of force.”
Iran said U.S. claims about the attack were aimed at justifying new American military action. A year ago, after an earlier chemical weapons attack by Syria, Trump launched 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria, targeting the military base that was home to the warplanes that carried out the attack.
Trump’s rebuff of Putin and Iran, which has forces in Syria, came as Syrian state television said Sunday an agreement has been reached for rebels to leave Douma, their last stronghold near Damascus.
The accord calls for the Jaish al-Islam fighters to release all prisoners they were holding in exchange for passage within 48 hours to the opposition-held town of Jarablus in northern Syria near the Turkish border. Russia said last week that Jaish al-Islam accepted a deal to leave Ghouta, which houses tens of thousands of people. However, the evacuations stalled over reports that the rebel group remained divided over the withdrawal.
The pact was reached just hours after the suspected chemical attack.
In Rome, Pope Francis condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria, “There is not a good war and a bad one, and nothing, nothing can justify the use of such devices of extermination against defenseless people and populations.”
Even before Trump responded to the suspected chemical attack to blame Putin, the U.S. State Department had said, “Russia, with its unwavering support for the regime, ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks, targeting of countless civilians, and the suffocation of Syria’s most vulnerable communities with chemical weapons.”
Source: Voice of America