Syria’s opposition accused government forces of gassing hundreds of people near
Damascus on Wednesday after rockets released deadly fumes over rebelheld
suburbs, killing men, women and children as they slept.
What would be the
world’s most lethal chemical weapons attack since the 1980s prompted an
emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon
said he was shocked.
As the death toll in Ghouta, a Sunnidominated and
highly populated area, reportedly topped 1,000 civilians, many of the casualties
were shown to have no flesh wounds, lending credence to loud claims from rebel
leaders that the attack involved chemical weapons.
The death toll
surpasses any single day so far in the two-year Syrian civil war between
President Bashar Assad and the rebel groups. And if confirmed, the attack would
represent the most egregious and deadly use of chemical weapons in any conflict
in several decades.
Images, including some by freelance photographers
supplied to Reuters, showed scores of bodies – some of them small children –
laid on the floor of a clinic with no visible signs of injury.
images showed people with foam around their mouths.
The Syrian government
denied it had used chemical arms.
“More details are sure to come out, but
evidence shows something major has occurred in Ghouta to generate such death
tolls,” said Andrew Tabler, an expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy.
The regime has used chemical weapons repeatedly in
Syria, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Wednesday, though he did not
respond directly to reports of the Ghouta attack.
Describing the civil
war as a life-anddeath struggle between Alawites and Sunnis, the defense
minister said there was no end in sight to the conflict.
The Assad regime
has lost control of Syria, and is present in only 40 percent of the country,
The Syrian war has become a longterm regional and global
conflict, and Israel has chosen not to intervene, but to stick to red lines to
protect its vital security interests, Ya’alon said.
“I don’t see an end
to this situation; even Assad’s fall won’t lead to its end,” he said.
noted the formations of ethnic and sectarian enclaves in Syria, including the
Kurds in the northeast, who have links to Iraqi Kurds; Alawites in the coastal
region linked to Damascus via a corridor; and Sunnis in the
Lebanon is linked to the Iranian-sponsored axis, hence the war
from Syria is spilling over into it, Ya’alon said.
The United States
joined Saudi Arabia, France, South Korea, Luxembourg and Great Britain in
calling for an urgent meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday evening to
address the allegations, the White House said, as it announced that Washington
was formally requesting that the UN “urgently investigate this new
“We are working urgently to gather additional information,”
Josh Earnest, principal deputy White House press secretary, said, adding that
the US is “deeply concerned” by the reports.
“We don’t have any
corroborating evidence at this point,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki
The attack that occurred on Wednesday morning marked a year since
President Barack Obama spoke from the White House calling the use of chemical
weapons in Syria a “red line” for the United States.
“We talked about the
red line and how it had been crossed a couple of months ago,” Psaki said, saying
the issue had already been “litigated.”
George Sabra, president of the
Syrian National Council coalition of opposition groups, told local Arab media
outlets that 1,300 people had been killed in a chemical attack, while
Salim Idris, chief of staff of the Westernbacked Supreme
Military Council, put the initial estimate at 1,600.
A spokesman for the
Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry called the accusations “false and
untrue,” and said that the government’s cooperation with the UN investigative
team now in the country “didn’t please the terrorists and the countries
supporting them, which is why they came up with new false
The Arab League and the European Union have condemned the
alleged attack, but Russia, while calling for a UN investigation into the
claims, said on Wednesday that circumstances around