Pope Francis on Sunday deplored the gas attack reported in Syria as an unjustifiable use of “instruments of extermination”.
At the end of a Mass in St. Peter’s Square earlier today, he said:
There is no such thing as a good war and a bad war. Nothing, but nothing, can justify the use of such instruments of extermination on defenceless people and populations
He urged that “military and political leaders choose another path, that of negotiations, which is the only one that can bring about peace and not death and destruction”.
According to the White Helmets, Syrian regime forces struck targets in the Damascus suburb’s Douma district in a midnight attack using poison gas that left at least 40 civilians dead while injuring more than 500 people.
Syrian rebel group Jaish al-Islam, in control of Douma, accused government forces of dropping the barrel bomb containing poisonous chemicals, while Syrian state media denied launching chemical attacks as soon as the reports began circulating.
The US State Department said reports of mass casualties from the attack were “horrifying” and would, if confirmed, “demand an immediate response by the international community”.
Britain’s Foreign Office also called the reports, if confirmed, “very concerning” and said “an urgent investigation is needed and the international community must respond. We call on the Assad regime and its backers, Russia and Iran, to stop the violence against innocent civilians.”
Russia, however, dismissed the reports. “We decidedly refute this information,” Major-General Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian peace and reconciliation centre in Syria, was cited as saying by Interfax news service.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has won back control of nearly all of eastern Ghouta in a Russian-backed military campaign that began in February, leaving just Douma in rebel hands.