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Syrian opposition accuses regime of killing 1,300 in chemical weapons attack

Pro-opposition groups say that government forces used a “poisonous gas” in an attack earlier today but the government says the reports are “totally false”.

THIS POST CONTAINS IMAGES THAT SOME READERS MAY FIND UPSETTING. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO SEE THEM, PLEASE READ NO FURTHER.

Updated 6.55pm

SYRIA’S MAIN OPPOSITION group has accused the government of “massacring” more than 1,300 people in chemical weapons attacks near Damascus earlier today, saying many of the victims choked to death.

The accusation came as a team of UN inspectors was in Syria to probe previous allegations of chemical weapons strikes levelled against both sides during the 29-month conflict.

Western governments demanded immediate access for the inspectors to investigate the new allegations. Russia, a longstanding ally of the Damascus regime, echoed the call for an inquiry but said it suspected a “provocation” by the opposition and its foreign backers.

Videos distributed by activists, the authenticity of which could not immediately be verified, showed medics attending to suffocating children and hospitals being overwhelmed.

More footage showed dozens of people laid out on the ground, among them many children, some of them covered in white sheets.

The claim of chemical weapons use, which could not be independently confirmed, was vehemently denied by the Syrian regime which said it was intended to hinder the work of the UN weapons inspectors already in the country.

Opposition sources accused the army of multiple chemical weapons strikes — one in Moadamiyet al-Sham, southwest of Damascus, and more in the capital’s eastern suburbs.

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These images, courtesy of AP, have been fully authenticated, a rare occurrence in Syria, where foreign reporting is highly restricted. They show the damage inflicted on Arbeen town in Damascus.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of activists, reported hundreds of casualties in the “brutal use of toxic gas by the criminal regime”.

And in videos posted on YouTube, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, another activist group, showed what it called “a terrible massacre committed by regime forces with toxic gas.”

The attack “led to suffocation of the children and overcrowding field hospitals with hundreds of casualties amid extreme shortage of medical supplies to rescue the victims, particularly atropine,” the LCC said.

In one video, children are seen being given first aid in a field hospital, notably oxygen to help them breathe. Doctors appear to be trying to resuscitate unconscious children.

Specialists in the impact of chemical weapons said the video evidence was not entirely convincing.

“At the moment, I am not totally convinced because the people that are helping them are without any protective clothing and without any respirators,” said Paula Vanninen, director of Verifin, the Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

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State news agency SANA said “reports on the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta (the Damascus suburbs) are totally false. It’s an attempt to prevent the UN commission of inquiry from carrying out its mission.”

The UN Security Council was to hold an urgent meeting on the allegations later on Wednesday as UN officials said that talks were already under way with the Syrian government on securing access to the alleged attack sites.

The head of the UN inspection mission, Ake Sellstrom, was “in discussions with the Syrian government on all issues pertaining to the alleged use of chemical weapons, including this most recent reported incident,” a statement said.

Washington demanded that the inspectors be given unfettered access.

Unrest in Syria began in March 2011 and later exploded into a civil war. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

- additional reporting Paul Hosford

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