Scores killed in ‘chemical weapons’ attack in Syria
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Scores were reported killed in a bombardment on the outskirts of Syria’s capital Damascus on Wednesday as opposition forces accused the government of using chemical weapons in the attack.
Syrian anti-government activists accused the regime of carrying out a toxic gas attack on Wednesday that killed at least 100 people, including many children, during intense artillery and rocket barrages on the eastern suburbs of Damascus.
Rebel positions were bombarded in the eastern suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar in the country’s Ghouta region.
The UN Security Council scheduled emergency consultations Wednesday on the alleged use of chemical weapons near Damascus. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was determined to ensure a "thorough investigation'' of all reported incidents.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which gathers information from a network of activists and medics, said that as many as 100 people had been killed in the violence.
Syria’s main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said that 1,300 people were killed.
“Today’s crimes are...not the first time the regime has used chemical weapons,” Coalition leader George Sabra told a news conference in Istanbul. “But they constitute a significant turning point in the regime’s operations...This time it was for annihilation rather than terror.”
The allegations came as a 20-member United Nations team was in Syria to investigate three sites where chemical weapons were claimed to have been used in the past during the country’s more than two-year old crisis.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government swiftly denied accusations that it was responsible for using chemical weapons.
“They are an attempt by to divert the UN commission on chemical weapons from carrying out its mission,” the state-run SANA news agency said, quoting an unnamed government official, as is its standard practice.
Heavy explosions and the sound of fighter jets could be heard by residents in the Syrian capital throughout the night and early Wednesday, as gray smoke hung over towns in the eastern suburbs.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the SOHR, said activists in the area reported that “poisonous gas” had been fired in rockets as well as from the air in the deadly attack. He added that government forces had launched a wide offensive on the eastern and western rebel-held suburbs of Damascus.
Amid calls by Syria’s opposition to investigate the scene of the bombardment, the leader of the UN chemical weapons team, Ake Sellstrom, said that the incident should be looked into but that doing so would require a request from a UN member state.
Britain said it was deeply concerned and would raise the issue at the UN Security Council, adding the attacks would be “a shocking escalation” if confirmed. French President François Hollande echoed calls to investigate allegations of a chemical attack, saying he planned to ask the UN to do so.
The crisis in Syria first began in March 2011 as an anti-government protest movement, before exploding into a full-scale conflict that has since claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)