Syrian Government Accused of Chemical Attack, Killing Dozens

Dozens of Syrians, mainly women and children, have died after a chemical attack in Douma, the last rebel-held area in the eastern region of the country, NPR reports.

According to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a medical relief organization, the Saturday attack has left more than 49 people dead, The Huffington Post reports. Syrian Civil Defense, a pro-opposition group also known as the White Helmets, have said that over 40 people have died. The several reports on the death toll of the attack vary, and have not been independently verified.

UOSSM, a medical aid association, told NPR that the attack was a one-two chemical attack, in which two attacks were deployed. The first attack appeared to use chlorine gas and most of those affected were able to be treated at the hospital. A second attack occurred approximately a half-hour later, this time using a stronger chemical agent, NPR reports.

According to the Syrian Civil Defense and SAMS, those that were affected by the chemical agent in the second attack showed “signs of respiratory distress, central cyanosis, excessive oral foaming, corneal burns, and the emission of chlorine-like odor.”

President Trump took to Twitter on Sunday to condemn the attacks, lashing out at Russian President Putin and Iran for backing Syrian President Bashar Assad, as well as criticized former President Barack Obama for not eradicating the conflict in Syria “long ago.”

“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!” Trump wrote over a series of tweets.

“If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!” Trump also wrote, referencing to Obama’s 2012 pledge to intervene if the Syrian government deployed a chemical attack on its people, HuffPost reports.

According to HuffPost, the U.S. State Department said on Sunday that it was investigating to determine if the Syrian government was responsible for the chemical attack.

“Reports from a number of contacts and medical personnel on the ground indicate a potentially high number of casualties, including among families hiding in shelters,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “These reports, if confirmed, are horrifying and demand an immediate response by the international community.”

The Syrian government has always denied using chemical agents against its civilians or opposition forces. In a statement on its website, the Russian Foreign Ministry has said that allegations about this chemical attack are “fabricated,” claiming that these allegations were invented by rebel forces and the Syrian Civil Defense, ABC News reports.

The Russian government, according to ABC News, has also warned the U.S. of “military intervention” in Syria over the allegations of this chemical attack, adding that any such attack would be “unacceptable” and lead to the “most serious consequences.”

“It is necessary to warn again that military intervention under invented and fabricated pretexts in Syria, where at the request of the lawful government there are Russian military personnel, is absolutely unacceptable and can lead to the most serious consequences,” the statement said. “The aim of these false speculations, that have no basis, is to shield the terrorists and the irreconcilable radical opposition, who reject a political solution, at the same time while trying to justify possible armed strikes from outside.”

This chemical attack came just over a year after Trump order dozens of air strikes on a Syrian regime air base for its alleged use of sarin gas that killed approximately 100 people, ABC News reports.

Last week, Trump said that the U.S. would be removing troops from Syria “very soon” during a rally in Ohio. He reiterated this statement during a press conference on Tuesday, ABC News reports.

“It's time. We were successful against ISIS,” Trump said. “We'll be successful against anybody militarily, but sometimes it's time to come back home — and we're thinking about that very seriously.”

However, the White House backpedaled on Trump’s comments on Wednesday, with White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders telling reporters that Trump wasn’t going “to put an arbitrary timeline” on the withdrawal of troops.