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Syrian forces bomb again with ‘chemical’ weapons

Syrian forces bomb again with ‘chemical’ weapons
Highlights

President Bashar Assad's forces pressed on with a military offensive in eastern Damascus on Thursday, bombing rebel-held suburbs where the opposition...

United States, Britain and France have demanded that a team of UN experts already in Syria be granted immediate access to the site

  • Syrian opposition and activists have reported death toll at 1300
  • Government denies allegations
  • UNICEF deplores deaths of children

Beirut (AP): President Bashar Assad's forces pressed on with a military offensive in eastern Damascus on Thursday, bombing rebel-held suburbs where the opposition said a chemical weapons attack the day before killed over 100 people. The government has denied allegations it used chemical weapons in artillery barrages on the area known as eastern Ghouta on Wednesday as "absolutely baseless." The United States, Britain and France have demanded that a team of UN experts already in Syria be granted immediate access to investigate the site.

Syrian opposition figures and activists have reported widely varying death tolls from Wednesday's attack, from 136 to as high as 1,300. But even the most conservative tally would make it the deadliest alleged chemical attack in Syria's civil war. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had no word on casualties in the Thursday morning bombing of eastern Ghouta. It said Syrian warplanes conducted several air raids on eastern and western suburbs of Damascus, including three that took place within five minutes.

Wednesday's alleged chemical weapons attack left scores of children dead, their lifeless bodies appearing in amateur videos wrapped in white cloths, their pale skin unmarked by any wounds. UNICEF said in a statement that the reports of attacks on civilians, presumably including children, were "deeply disturbing."

UN seeks clarification

United Nations (PTI): The UN Security Council has sought clarity on the allegations that Syrian forces killed 1,300 people using chemical weapons, amid differences emerging between its permanent members over the issue.

"I can say there is a strong concern among Council members about the allegations and a general sense that there must be clarity on what happened and that the situation has to be followed carefully," the UNSC president, Maria Cristina Perceval said in a council meeting on Wednesday.

The emergency meeting had called for a prompt investigation into an alleged chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital that left hundreds of people dead. She said council members "welcomed the determination of the Secretary General to ensure a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation". Perceval said there was a "strong call for a cessation of hostilities and for a ceasefire". Having failed to get a strong action from the Security Council, because of resistance from Russia and China; its other three permanent members the US, Britain and France, wrote a letter to the UN Secy Gen, Ban Ki-moon.

Iran rejects claims

Tehran (AFP): Iran has rejected claims the Syrian regime, its chief regional ally, had deployed chemical weapons, saying if such an attack were proven rebels would be responsible, official media said on Wednesday. "If the information concerning the use of chemical weapons is accurate, very definitely they were used by terrorist groups, who have shown they will not hold back from committing any crime," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted by IRNA news agency as saying, referring to rebels locked in a deadly war with President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

"With United Nations (chemical weapons) inspectors now in Damascus and the Syrian government in the process of driving the terrorists back, why would it commit such an act," he asked. Zarif said Tehran "vigorously condemns any use of chemical weapons," while accusing the rebels of having "every interest in aggravating and internationalising the crisis." Syria's main opposition group, the National Coalition, accused the government of "massacring" more than 1,300 people in chemical weapons.

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