BEIRUT — 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.
Medical relief organization Syrian American Medical Society said 41 people had been killed, with other reports putting the death toll much higher. The civil defence rescue service, which operates in rebel-held areas of Syria, put it as high as 150 in a report on one of its Twitter feeds.
The Russian-backed Syrian state denied government forces had launched any chemical attack as the reports began circulating on Saturday night and said rebels in the eastern Ghouta town of Douma were in a state of collapse and spreading false 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 can be heard saying.
The US 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 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 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, which said it could not confirm if chemical weapons had been used in the attack on Saturday. — Reuters