Syrian opposition alleges 'poisonous gas' attack
By Bassem Mroue and Zeina Karam,APBEIRUT -- Syrian anti-government activists accused the regime of carrying out a toxic gas attack that killed at least 100 people, including many children, during intense artillery and rocket barrages Wednesday on the eastern suburbs of Damascus, part of a fierce government offensive in the area.
August 22, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
The attack coincided with the visit by a 20-member U.N. chemical weapons team to Syria to investigate three sites where chemical weapons attacks allegedly occurred during the past year. Their presence raises questions about why the regime — which called the claims of the attack Wednesday "absolutely baseless" — would use chemical agents at this time.
Shocking images emerged from the purported attack, showing pale, lifeless bodies of children lined up on floors of makeshift hospitals and others with oxygen masks on their faces as they were attended to by paramedics. One appeared to be a toddler clad in diapers. There was no visible blood or wounds on their skin.
The reported death toll Wednesday would make it the deadliest alleged chemical attack in Syria's civil war. There were conflicting reports, however, as to what exactly transpired. Syria's Information Minister called the activists' claim a "disillusioned and fabricated one whose objective is to deviate and mislead" the U.N. mission.
France's president demanded the United Nations be granted access to the site of Wednesday's alleged attack, while Britain's foreign secretary said if the claims are verified it would mark "a shocking escalation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria."
The Egypt-based Arab League condemned the "horrific attack" against civilians and called for an investigation.
The heavy shelling earlier in the day pounded the capital's eastern suburbs of Zamalka, Arbeen and Ein Tarma, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. The intensive bombardment, as well as the sound of fighter jets, could be heard by residents of the Syrian capital throughout the night and early Wednesday. Gray smoke hung over towns in the eastern suburbs.
Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said the activists in the area said "poisonous gas" was fired in rockets as well as from the air in the attack. He said that he has documented at least 100 deaths, but said it was not clear whether the victims died from shelling or toxic gas.
Another group, the Local Coordination Committees, said hundreds of people were killed or injured in the shelling. The Syrian National Coalition, Syria's main opposition group in exile, put the number at 1,300. The group said it was basing its claim on accounts and photographs by activists on the ground.