Hundreds Reportedly Killed In Possible Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria

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Dashiell Bennett, The Atlantic Wire
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Dashiell Bennett, The Atlantic Wire
Aug. 21, 2013, 4:02 a.m.

NEW YORK — Just days after U.N. in­spect­ors ar­rived in Syr­ia to in­vest­ig­ate the pos­sible use of chem­ic­al weapons, op­pos­i­tion act­iv­ists al­lege that as many as 650 people have been killed in a pois­on gas at­tack. Two anti-As­sad op­pos­i­tion groups say that a large rock­et at­tack in Dam­as­cus on Wed­nes­day morn­ing was ac­tu­ally a chem­ic­al weapons at­tack launched by the re­gime. If the re­ports are con­firmed, it could also be one of the dead­li­est single in­cid­ents of the en­tire war. Syr­ia’s state me­dia agency denied the claims.

There are wildly dif­fer­ing re­ports on the cas­u­al­ties — from “dozens” to 213 to over 650 — and still no form­al con­firm­a­tion on the cause of death, but wit­nesses and re­port­ers on the ground con­firm that some kind of at­tack took place in the Syr­i­an cap­it­al and that chil­dren are among the dead. Re­u­ters re­ports that their own pho­to­graph­ers have taken im­ages that “showed scores of bod­ies in­clud­ing of small chil­dren, laid out on the floor of a med­ic­al clin­ic with no vis­ible signs of in­jur­ies.” (You can see one such im­age here, though you should be warned that it is very graph­ic and the ori­gin of the im­age is un­con­firmed.) A lack of ob­vi­ous wounds would sug­gest that some kind of pois­on­ing may the cause.

Re­u­ters also quotes a nurse say­ing the vic­tims “ar­rived with their pu­pils dilated, cold limbs and foam in their mouths,” which are typ­ic­al sym­bols of gas at­tack vic­tims.

Ac­cus­a­tions of chem­ic­al weapon use have been leveled at both sides dur­ing the two-and-a-half-year con­flict, but noth­ing has been al­leged on this scale. Amer­ic­an, Brit­ish, and French sources have all claimed months ago to have found evid­ence that Bashar al-As­sad’s forces have crossed the “red line” by us­ing nerve gas and oth­er agents, but no in­ter­na­tion­al ac­tion has yet been taken against the re­gime, mostly be­cause of Rus­sia’s re­fus­al to al­low a U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil res­ol­u­tion.

On Sunday, United Na­tions in­spect­ors ar­rived in the coun­try to in­vest­ig­ate pre­vi­ous claims of chem­ic­al weapon use, which makes the tim­ing of this new­est at­tack all the more curi­ous. Brit­ish For­eign Sec­ret­ary Wil­li­am Hag­ue has already asked that those same in­spect­ors be giv­en im­me­di­ate ac­cess to the site of Wed­nes­day’s at­tack in or­der to in­vest­ig­ate the new claims. They are stay­ing at a Dam­as­cus hotel just a few miles from where the at­tack re­portedly took place.

Re­prin­ted with per­mis­sion from the At­lantic Wire. The ori­gin­al story can be found here.

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