Quantcast
  

Friday, April 18, 2014         

 Print   Email   Comment | View 6 Comments   Most Popular   Save   Post   Retweet

Aid group: 355 dead after Syria 'chemical' attack

By Albert Aji & Bassem Mroue

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 07:47 a.m. HST, Aug 24, 2013


DAMASCUS, Syria » Syrian state media accused rebels of using chemical arms against government troops in clashes today near Damascus, while an international aid group said it has tallied 355 deaths from a purported chemical weapons attack earlier this week.

Doctors Without Borders said three hospitals it supports in the eastern Damascus region reported receiving roughly 3,600 patients with "neurotoxic symptoms" over less than three hours on Wednesday morning, when the attack in the eastern Ghouta area took place.

Of those, 355 died, said the Paris-based group.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today that its estimated death toll from the alleged chemical attack reached 322, including 54 children, 82 women and dozens of fighters. It said the dead included 16 who have not been identified.

The Observatory's earlier death toll was 136, saying it was raised after its activists in the stricken areas met doctors, residents and saw medical reports. It said the dead "fell in the massacre committed by the Syrian regime."

Death tolls have varied over the alleged attack, with Syrian anti-government activists reporting between 322 and 1,300 being killed.

Meanwhile, U.S. naval forces are moving closer to Syria as President Barack Obama considers a military response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by President Bashar Assad's government.

U.S. defense officials told The Associated Press that the Navy had sent a fourth warship armed with ballistic missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea but without immediate orders for any missile launch into Syria. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss ship movements publicly.

Obama emphasized that a quick intervention in the Syrian civil war was problematic, given the international considerations that should precede a military strike. The White House said the president would meet today with his national security team to consider possible next steps by the United States. Officials say once the facts are clear, Obama will make a decision about how to proceed.

With the pressure increasing, Syria's state media accused rebels in the contested district of Jobar near Damascus of using chemical weapons against government troops today.

State TV broadcast images of plastic jugs, gas masks, vials of an unspecified medication, explosives and other items that it said were seized from rebel hideouts today. It did not, however, show any video of soldiers reportedly affected by toxic gas in the fighting.

The claims could muddy the debate about who was responsible for Wednesday's alleged gas attack, which spurred demands for an independent investigation and renewed talk of potential international military action if chemical weapons were used.

Just hours before the state media reports, the U.N. disarmament chief arrived in Damascus to press Assad's regime to allow U.N. experts to investigate the alleged attack. The regime has denied allegations that it was behind the Wednesday attack, calling them "absolutely baseless" and suggesting they are an attempt to discredit the government.

The U.S., Britain, France and Russia have urged the Assad regime and the rebels fighting to overthrow him to cooperate with the United Nations and allow a team of experts already in Syria to look into the latest purported use of chemical agents. The U.N. secretary-general dispatched Angela Kane, the high representative for disarmament affairs, to push for a speedy investigation into Wednesday's purported attack. She did not speak to reporters upon her arrival in Damascus today.

The state news agency said several government troops who took part in the Jobar offensive experienced severe trouble breathing or even "suffocation" after "armed terrorist groups used chemical weapons." It was not clear what was meant by "suffocation," and the report mentioned no fatalities among the troops.

"The Syrian Army achieved major progress in the past days and for that reason, the terrorist groups used chemical weapons as their last card," state TV said. The government refers to rebels fighting to topple Assad as "terrorists."

The report was followed by an unusual string of breaking alerts on the TV's news scroll today, with a series of claims related to the alleged use of chemical arms by rebels in Jobar.

One message cited a Syrian TV journalist embedded with the troops in the district who said the army confiscated an arms cache that included several barrels with "made in Saudi Arabia" stamped on them. It did not say what was in the barrels, but appeared to suggest that some sort of chemical agent was inside and supplied by Saudi Arabia, the region's Sunni Muslim power and a staunch supporter of Syria's Sunni-led revolt.

Another news scroll said that troops, after overrunning rebel positions, received antidotes following exposure to chemical agents. The TV said the medicines were produced by a Qatari-German medical supplies company. Qatar is another strong supporter of the Syrian rebels. The report could not be immediately verified.

State TV also broadcast images of a Syrian army officer, wearing a surgical mask, telling reporters wearing similar masks that soldiers were subjected to poisonous attack in Jobar. He spoke inside the depot where the alleged confiscated products were placed.

"Our troops did not suffer body wounds," said the officer said. "I believe terrorist groups used special substances that are poisonous in an attempt to affect this advance."

The Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV, which has a reporter embedded with the troops in the area, said some 50 soldiers were rushed to Damascus hospitals for treatment and that it was not yet known what type of gas the troops were subjected to.

For days, the government has been trying to counter rebel allegations that the regime used chemical weapons on civilians in rebel-held areas of eastern Damascus, arguing that opposition fighters themselves were responsible for that attack.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius dismissed the Syrian government line.

"All the information we have is converging to indicate there was a chemical massacre in Syria, near Damascus, and that Bashar Assad's regime was behind it," Fabius told reporters during a visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah. He did not elaborate.

France has suggested that force could be used against Syria if Assad's regime was proven to have used chemical arms.

The new talk of potential military action in Syria has made an independent investigation by U.N. inspectors critical to determine what exactly transpired.

The U.N. experts already in Syria are tasked with investigating three earlier purported chemical attacks in the country: one in the village of Khan al-Assal outside the northern city of Aleppo in March, as well as two other locations that have been kept secret for security reasons.

It took months of negotiations between the U.N. and Damascus before an agreement was struck to allow the 20-member team into Syria to investigate. Its mandate is limited to those three sites, however, and it is only charged with determining whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them.

Leaders of the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group today vowed retaliation for the alleged chemical weapons attack.

From Istanbul, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Al-Jarba, also criticized the lack of response to the attack by the United Nations and the international community, saying the UN was discrediting itself.

"It does not reach the ethical and legal response that Syrians expect," he said. "As a matter of fact we can describe it as a shame."

Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Paris, Desmond Butler in Istanbul and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.







 Print   Email   Comment | View 6 Comments   Most Popular   Save   Post   Retweet

COMMENTS
(6)
You must be subscribed to participate in discussions
By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. Because only subscribers are allowed to comment, we have your personal information and are able to contact you. If your comments are inappropriate, you may receive a warning, and if you persist with such comments you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email commentfeedback@staradvertiser.com.
Leave a comment

Please login to leave a comment.
Grimbold wrote:
This are the rebels: People who blow themselves up killing civilians, women and children indiscriminately would also poison gas their friends and children if it serves their purpose. And poison gas attacks serve only their purpose, because then the fool Obama government would help them Without poison gas Assad was already routing them and winning that war. Assad is not stupid. He knows if he used poison gas he would loose his head. It also would serve no military purpose. So who do you think staged or faked these poison gas attacks?
on August 24,2013 | 08:18AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
That is exactly what I was thinking.
on August 24,2013 | 09:14AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
You talk as if chemical weapons were widely available to the rebels.. Just where exactly are they getting it from? The Assad regime is known to have these weapons already.
on August 24,2013 | 12:55PM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Actually they are widely available. Something as innocent as a pool supply store often has enough material on its shelves that could wipe out an entire city block. The sophistication of chemical weapons centers upon the technology of the delivery system, not the actual chemicals. Anyone can google this. Oh wait - do so and you risk being spied on by Barry's NSA...
on August 24,2013 | 03:52PM
HD36 wrote:
Whether they died from chemicals, bullets, knives, shrapnel, or fire, shouldn't change the bottom line that the US has no reason to get involved in backing Al Quaida rebels. Especially since we are the largest debtor nation in the history of the world and war is extremely expensive. But it does make billions for a few.
on August 24,2013 | 08:16PM
HD36 wrote:
Should the US launch the first missile, we'll see the begging of WWIII. Russia already has naval ships at the Syrian port and Putin isn't backing down like Mediven did in Libya. He'll use those Onyx next generation missiles that are 25 years ahead of the cruise missile. Perhaps the bigger ploy is to start a war, and when the economy collapses they can have a smoke screen and something to take the blame away from the government. Funny how these things always happen on a weekend.
on August 24,2013 | 08:12PM
IN OTHER NEWS
Breaking News