Syrian Crisis

Syria and Russia deny use of chemical weapons in rebel-held town, as rescue workers peg toll at 70

The Assad regime claimed that rebels losing control of Douma were fabricating the reports of a chemical attack.

The Syrian government on Sunday denied allegations that it had carried out a chemical attack in the rebel-held Douma town in the suburbs of its capital, Damascus, late on Saturday. The statement came as graphic videos and photographs showing the bodies of children, men and women started doing the rounds hours after the suspected incident. According to state news agency SANA, the Bashar al-Assad government claimed that the reports and videos were invented by the Jaish al-Islam rebels who control the region, the BBC reported.

“Jaish al-Islam terrorists are in a state of collapse and their media outlets are [making] chemical attack fabrications in an exposed and failed attempt to obstruct advances by the Syrian Arab Army,” SANA quoted the government as saying. The state claimed the rebels were fabricating the videos to garner international support as they were being defeated in Douma.

At least 70 people were killed in the attack, the Union of Medical Relief Organizations, a US-based charity that works with Syrian hospitals, told the BBC. Rescue workers reported finding dozens of people dead inside their homes and several others foaming at the mouth, The Guardian reported. They said many of the injured were showing symptoms consistent with exposure to a compound containing nerve gas.

Russia, Syria’s main ally in the fight against the rebels, also denied that any chemical weapons were used. In a statement issued on Sunday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the allegations of a chemical attack were “mere provocations that seek to protect terrorists and justify attacking Syria”, SANA reported.

Moscow also claimed that the allegations were based on testimonies from the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group, and other such groups from Britain and the United States, suggesting that they are untrustworthy. Russia has previously attempted to discredit the White Helmets.

Meanwhile, United States President Donald Trump called the attack “mindless” and “SICK!” and said “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad.” In a series of posts on Twitter, Trump said there was a “big price to pay”.

On April 4, 2017, more than 100 civilians were killed in a sarin nerve gas strike in Idlib province, which investigations found was carried out by the Russia-backed Bashar al-Assad government. The Syrian regime, however, has denied the allegation.

The Syrian war

Syria has been ravaged by a civil war that began in 2011. Ever since, rebel groups have been fighting to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The Islamic State group has exploited the civil war to grab territory in both Syria and Iraq.

Saturday’s attack comes after months of Syrian government forces working to retake a group of towns east of Damascus in a region known as Eastern Ghouta. While the government is backed by Russia and Iran, the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia back the rebels.

Lakhs of people have been killed in the past seven years. The war has also left at least 61 lakh Syrians internally displaced, while another 56 lakh have fled abroad, according to the BBC.

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