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Death toll rises to 85 in Syria East Ghouta chemical attack

Syria’s chlorine chemical attack struck the Damascus suburb of Douma on 7 April, 2018 [Twitter]
Syria’s chemical attack struck the Damascus suburb of Douma on 7 April, 2018 [Twitter]

Rescue workers and medical staff have said that the death toll from Syria’s chlorine chemical attack that struck the Damascus suburb of Douma at midnight on Saturday has risen to 85.

A radio station worker told Al Jazeera that residents on the rooftops described green gas being released from canisters falling from the sky.

When Syrian regime forces stepped up their bombardment on Eastern Ghouta at the end of February hundreds of families took shelter in basements – they returned this week but were suffocated to death there.

Activists posted photos of men, women and children foaming from the mouth.

Only one hospital remains in the city since regime forces have targeted makeshift medical centres as part of a coordinated campaign civilians call “a dirty war against doctors”.

Many of the doctors working in Ghouta were medical students before the war and have not even graduated. Surgeons have been systematically, forcibly disappeared by the regime.

Shortly after the chemical attack the area surrounding the hospital was hit with barrel bombs, reports the White Helmets, which prevented ambulances from reaching the victims and delivering them to the hospital.

READ: ‘The regime is killing people and the whole world is watching’

Along with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) the White Helmets have documented over 200 chemical weapons attacks in Syria since the start of the war.

On 4 April 2017 a regime chemical attack hit Khan Sheikhoun in rural Idlib in the north of Syria, killing over 100 and injuring hundreds more. On 21 August 2013 the Syrian military attacked opposition-held areas in the Damascus suburbs with chemical weapons killing 1,500 civilians.

This weekend’s chemical attack came one day after Syrian government forces began a renewed ground offensive on the last opposition-held town of Eastern Ghouta. Air raids killed at least 35 people and injured dozens more.

A source within the negotiating committee confirmed that this bombardment of Douma was a violation of the ceasefire which was agreed upon during ongoing negotiations with Russia.

Jaish Al-Islam, the group controlling Douma, had been in talks with Russia on the future of Douma and hoped to remain in charge of the city. However, following the chemical weapons attacks they agreed with Russia to a ceasefire and the evacuation of 8,000 fighters, 40,000 of their relatives and also civilians from the area. In return Jaish Al-Islam will release its hostages.

READ: US officials deny reports of US strike on Syria

Around 150,000 East Ghouta residents, including 19,000 earlier in March, have been evacuated to northern Syria after deals with the Russian army, in what human rights groups have said is forced displacement and in violation of international law.

US President Donald Trump has warned that “animal Assad” would have a “big price to pay” for another “sick” humanitarian disaster. Trump has also blamed former President Barack Obama for not doing enough to stop Assad.

 

Senator John McCain has said that Trump’s pledge to withdraw from Syria has emboldened Al-Assad to commit more war crimes in Douma. Earlier this month the US President said “it’s time” to “get out” of Syria, though offered no timeframe.

There are currently 2,000 US troops on the ground in Syria and the army is waging almost daily air strikes there.

The UN Security Council will meet twice today after Russia and the US put in requests for emergency Security Council meetings following the chemical weapons attack.

Syria has entered its eighth year of war. This year alone over 1,000 children have been killed or injured.

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