The U.S. demanded an immediate international response to reports of a chemical attack on a suburb of the Syrian capital that rescue workers and activists said killed dozens of people.
The town of Douma, the last rebel stronghold in the Eastern Ghouta suburb, came under renewed government fire after a truce in the area unraveled Friday. A chemical weapons attack in April provoked a U.S. missile strike, the first direct U.S. hit on Bashar Assad’s regime since the conflict in Syria began in March 2011.
Syria’s official Sana news agency said the rapidly advancing army “doesn’t need to use any chemical weapons as the media channels that support the terrorists are fabricating.” It cited an official it didn’t identify.
More than 40 people suffocated from exposure to an unknown chemical agent, the White Helmets, an opposition-linked civil defense force that operates in rebel areas, said on Twitter. Images of lifeless children and women foaming from their mouths were circulated on social media. Fatalities could exceed 100 people, according to the Syrian Coalition, an opposition umbrella group.
“Reports from a number of contacts and medical personnel on the ground indicate a potentially high number of casualties, including among families hiding in shelters,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement. “These reports, if confirmed, are horrifying and demand an immediate response by the international community.”
The Tomahawk strike in April increased tensions with Russia, which has backed Assad in his battle to suppress an uprising that has changed into a regional proxy war. The State Department said in its statement that Russia “’ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks” and has “breached its commitments to the United Nations as a framework guarantor” to a 2013 agreement to strip Syria of its chemical weapons stockpiles.