Dozens dead in possible gas attack in Syria; regime denies allegation
By Steve Almasy, CNN
(CNN) -- Several Syrian activist groups on Saturday reported that a brutal attack on the remnants of the rebel-held city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta left dozens of civilians killed and scores wounded.
The groups -- including the White Helmets, the Douma Coordination Committee and the Ghouta Media Center -- said toxic gas inside barrel bombs dropped by helicopters over Douma caused people to suffocate and choke.
Syrian state news agency SANA cited an "official source" who denied the allegations, saying the reports were a "blatant attempt to hinder the army's advance" into what the news agency described as a "collapsing terrorist" stronghold.
SANA, citing the same sources, wrote that the Syrian Arab Army "does not need to use any chemical materials as claimed by terrorists' media affiliates."
Graphic images showed people, including children, apparently dead and injured -- some with some kind of spittle or foam in their mouths in makeshift medical centers.
CNN could not immediately confirm the authenticity of the photos.
The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), citing doctors and activists on the ground, released a statement saying a massive suspected chemical or gas attack was reported and at least 25 people were killed and 500 wounded.
CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Damascus said there were heavy air strikes in the area all day and rebels shelled the Syrian capital.
Meanwhile, a US State Department official told CNN, "We have seen multiple, very disturbing reports this afternoon regarding another possible CW (chemical weapons) attack near a hospital in Douma, Syria."
The official also said, "The regime's history of using chemical weapons against its own people (is) not in dispute, and in fact began with a sarin gas attack in Eastern Ghouta on August 21, 2013 which killed over 1,000 Syrians.
"As we've said, Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the brutal targeting of countless Syrians with chemical weapons. Russia's protection of the Assad regime and failure to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria calls into question its commitment to resolving the overall crisis."
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