The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap. (Isaiah 17:1)
Pro-Assad forces reportedly unleashed a deadly poison gas attack in Damascus early Wednesday, leaving hundreds dead, although the exact number of casualties is up for debate, reports The Times of Israel. Syrian activists close to the opposition told Al-Arabiya that 635 people had died while Reuters is reporting that the attack has left 213 dead. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the toll at dozens, while the Local Coordination Committees said hundreds were killed, according to the Times. Bayan Baker, a nurse at Douma Emergency Collection facility, said the death toll from the attack, collated from medical centers in the region, agreed that 213 was the correct number according to the Jerusalem Post.
“Many of the casualties are women and children. They arrived with their pupils dilated, cold limbs and foam in their mouths. The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims,” she said.
Khaled Omar of the opposition local council in Ain Tarma said he saw at least 80 bodies at the Hajjah Hospital in Ain Tarma and at a makeshift clinic at Tatbiqiya School in the nearby district of Saqba the JPost reported.
“The attack took place at around 3:00 AM. Most of those killed were in their homes,” Omar said.
Both the SOFHR as well as the LCC alleged that the regime forces fired “rockets with poisonous gas heads” in the attack.The Observatory said the shelling was intense and hit the eastern suburbs of Zamalka, Arbeen and Ein Tarma. Activists told Reuters that Jobar was also targeted. The areas are largely held by rebel forces.While the veracity of the report could not be immediately confirmed, the regime vehement denied the use of any chemical weapons, according to a report in the state-run SANA news agency.
Video purportedly from the attack posted to YouTube showed over a dozen people killed from what was called a chemical attack. The authenticity of the videos could not be immediately verified.
The attack comes as United Nations weapons inspectors were about to arrive to conduct a probe of chemical weapons in Damascus. A 20-member UN team led by Swedish chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom arrived in Damascus on Sunday after months of negotiations. They were slated to inspect three sites where chemical attacks had reportedly occurred: the village of Khan al-Assal just west of the embattled northern city of Aleppo and two other locations being kept secret for security reasons, according to the Times. The mandate for the planned probe is limited: The team will report on whether chemical weapons were used, and if so which ones, but it will not determine the responsibility for an attack. This has led some commentators to question the value of the investigation.
Syria is believed to be in possession of the worlds largest stockpile of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent, sarin, but the Syrian government has never admitted to the possession of any such weaponry.
The Times reported that the Syrian government initially asked the UN to investigate an alleged chemical weapons attack on March 19 in Khan al Assal, which was captured by the rebels last month. The government and rebels blame each other for the purported attack which killed at least 30 people.
Britain, France and the US followed with allegations of chemical weapons use in Homs, Damascus and elsewhere. UN Mideast envoy Robert Serry told the Security Council last month that the UN has received 13 reports of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria.
Following Wednesday’s reports, the Observatory called upon the UN team in Syria and all international organizations “to visit the stricken areas and to guarantee that medical and relief supplies reach the people as soon as possible.” It also called for an investigation into the attack.