Saturday 14 December 2019

Suspected chemical attack kills child in Syria

A child breathing through a respirator in hospital in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, on Sunday. Photo: ReutersBassam Khabieh
A child breathing through a respirator in hospital in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, on Sunday. Photo: ReutersBassam Khabieh

Rachael Alexander

A child died and at least 13 other people suffered breathing difficulties after a suspected chemical attack on the besieged Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, a medic and a monitoring group said.

Two days after the UN security council called for a ceasefire in Syria, the Syrian regime continued a heavy bombardment of the Damascus suburb.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 civilians had suffered breathing difficulties consistent with exposure to chlorine gas after a regime warplane struck.

One child died and a woman was in a critical condition, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory, which relies on multiple sources on the ground in Syria for its reports.

Yaqub, a doctor who treated those affected, told AFP he suspected "chemical weapons, probably a chlorine gas attack". He said a three-year-old had died of asphyxiation.

"Most of the patients have chlorine odour from their clothes and their skin. Many have dyspnea and skin and eye irritations," he said in English.

Turkis deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag, Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Turkis deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag, Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Videos from Eastern Ghouta showed people breathing through respirators as they were treated.

The Syrian American Medical Society, which is active in Eastern Ghouta, said it was still not confirmed whether the boy died from chemical exposure or from an explosion.

Rebel groups accused the Syrian regime of using chlorine gas, but Russia accused the rebels of using "toxic substances" to make it appear as if the regime had used chemical weapons.

Damascus has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons, although multiple investigations by the UN and other bodies have shown they were responsible for a massive chemical attack in 2013 and other incidents.

Recent reports of regime chemical attacks have prompted France to warn of strikes in Syria, after similar remarks by an official in Washington.

The Observatory reported 21 cases of suffocation in Eastern Ghouta on January 22. Residents and medical sources said they suspected a chlorine attack.

Meanwhile, the UN demanded the immediate implementation of a 30-day ceasefire in Syria after the UN security council passed a resolution on Saturday night.

"Security Council resolutions are only meaningful if they are effectively implemented," it said. "That is why I expect the resolution to be immediately implemented and sustained."

Fresh bombardment by the Syrian regime yesterday killed at least 10 civilians, including nine members of the same family, the Observatory said.

Air strikes destroyed a building in Douma, the main town in the Eastern Ghouta area east of Damascus, and buried alive an entire family, the group said.

Meanwhile, Turkey deployed police special forces to the north-western Syrian region of Afrin yesterday for a "new battle" in its five-week campaign against the Kurdish YPG militia, despite a UN call at the weekend for a ceasefire across Syria.

Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies, supported by Turkish air strikes, have pushed the Kurdish fighters back from most of Turkey's border with Afrin since they launched their assault on January 20.

Dogan news agency reported that teams entered Afrin from two places to the north-west of the region, saying they would take part in urban fighting and holding villages which Turkish forces have seized. Most of the larger towns in Afrin region, including Afrin town itself, remain under YPG control.

Turkey says that Saturday's UN Security Council demand for a 30-day truce across Syria does not apply to its 'Operation Olive Branch' offensive in Afrin.

"Some regions such as eastern Ghouta are part of the UN's ceasefire decision in Syria, but Afrin is not one of them," deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag told broadcaster NTV. "The decision will not impact our Olive Branch operation."

The UN Security Council resolution demands all parties "cease hostilities without delay...for a durable humanitarian pause for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria".

The cessation of hostilities does not apply to military operations against Isil, al-Qa'ida and groups associated with them or other groups designated as terrorist organisations. Turkey says the YPG is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade-old insurgency in south-east Turkey. The PKK is branded a terrorist group by the US and the EU as well as by Turkey, but the YPG is Washington's main military ally in north-east Syria.

Irish Independent

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