At least 70 dead after alleged chemical attack in Syria, rescuers say

CAIRO, dpa correspondents (dpa)- More than 70 people were killed Saturday after a suspected chemical attack on the last remaining rebel stronghold in the Eastern Ghouta area - with fears growing the toll could surpass 100 - aid organizations have said.
"Significant numbers of children" were among the "well over 70 people" killed in the attack on the city of Douma, a spokesman for the international charity Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) told dpa.

Ari D'Souza said a smell of chlorine had been reported, but that rescuers believed that sarin gas had also been used, as it sinks, and many of the victims had been found sheltering in basements.
In a separate statement, the charity said the death toll was expected to rise to well over 100, as rescuers had experienced "extreme difficulty reaching victims due to the continued bombardment on Douma."
It said victims showed symptoms consistent with the inhaling of toxic gas including "cyanosis; foaming of the mouth; cornea irritation; and the strong odour of a chlorine-like substance."
The official Syrian news agency SANA dismissed reports of the attack as "chemical fabrications" and said that "terrorists" were repeating the allegations "in a blatant attempt to hinder the Army’s advance."
In one of the earliest reports, the volunteer rescue group White Helmets wrote on Twitter that a helicopter had dropped a barrel bomb filled with chemicals on Douma, killing at least 40 people and injuring hundreds.
"Entire families in shelters gassed to death in Douma EastGhouta hiding in their cellars, suffocated from the poisonous gas bringing the initial death toll to more than 40," the organization said on Twitter.
The tweet was accompanied by images of apparent victims of the alleged attack, including children, with foam around their mouths.
The pro-opposition Ghouta Media Center said that 75 civilians were killed in the attack and 1,000 affected by the attack.
It wrote on Twitter that a "barrel was dropped by Assad helicopters around 9:00 pm" adding that it contained "toxic sarin gas."
The reports have not been independently verified.
The US State Department said it was closely following the "disturbing reports."
"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," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
"These reports, if confirmed, are horrifying and demand an immediate response by the international community," she continued, adding that "the [Syrian] regime’s history of using chemical weapons against its own people is not in dispute."
Nauert said that Russia, by shielding its ally Syria, "ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks."
An investigation by the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) blamed the Syrian government for the April 4, 2017 sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, in which around 100 people died.
That attack prompted US President Donald Trump to order airstrikes on Syrian government facilities.
Syrian government forces and rebels intensified their attacks in Damascus and its outskirts on Saturday as the government pressed on with a military offensive to retake the last opposition pocket near the capital.
At least another 48 civilians were killed on Friday and Saturday in intense air bombardments by the government on Douma, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported.

Sunday, April 8th 2018
dpa correspondents (dpa)

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