Medics, activists, and rescue workers in Syria said dozens of people were killed and hundreds of others injured in a suspected chemical weapon attack on a rebel-held town near Damascus on Saturday — allegations the Syrian government has denied.
The White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group formally known as Syria Civil Defence, said at least 40 people suffocated to death after a helicopter dropped a barrel bomb containing a chemical agent on Douma, a town in the Damascus suburbs known as Eastern Ghouta.
Entire families died while hiding in cellars, trying to seek shelter from air raids and barrel bombs, the group said on Twitter.
The reports have not been independently confirmed.
Other relief organizations and watchdog groups, including the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Syrian American Medical Society, also reported the attack, though the number of victims killed has varied.
Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters he could not confirm if chemical weapons had been used.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, rejected the claim that chemical agents were used in Saturday’s attack.
A US State Department spokesperson called the reports “horrifying,” and said in a statement that Russia should be blamed if chemicals were indeed used in an attack on civilians.
“Reports from a number of contacts and medical personnel on the ground indicate a potentially high number of casualties, including among families hiding in shelters,” the spokesperson, Heather Nauert, said. “These reports, if confirmed, are horrifying and demand an immediate response by the international community.”
The alleged attack comes almost exactly a year after a chemical attack killed dozens of people in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. That attack prompted President Donald Trump to order a missile attack on a Syrian airbase.
Despite repeated accusations, however, the Syrian government denies that it has ever used chemical weapons in the country’s seven-year civil war.
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