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World Syrian forces accused of executing gas attack on rebel-held suburb

Dozens of Syrians choked to death after a suspected chemical attack struck the rebel-held suburb of Douma, east of Damascus, with aid groups Sunday blaming President Bashar Assad’s government for...

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Turkish-backed Syrian rebels gather in the city of Afrin in northern Syria on March 18, 2018 play

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels gather in the city of Afrin in northern Syria on March 18, 2018

(AFP)

Rescue workers in Syria reported finding at least 42 people dead in their homes from apparent suffocation, and antigovernment activists circulated videos of lifeless men, women and children sprawled out on floors and in stairwells, many with white foam coming from their mouths and nostrils.

A stream of patients with burning eyes and breathing problems were rushed to clinics after the attack at dusk Saturday, medical and rescue groups said.

The attack appeared to break the will of Douma’s rebels, who agreed Sunday to a deal with the government to hand the area over and be bused to another area outside government control in the country’s north. Thousands of fighters and tens of thousands of their relatives are expected to leave soon.

The latest atrocity in Syria’s agonizing seven-year civil war drew immediate condemnation from the United States and the European Union, but Assad’s allies in Moscow and Tehran dismissed allegations of a chemical attack as “bogus.”

The British Foreign Office called for an urgent investigation and said that if the use of chemical weapons proved to be true, “it is further proof of Assad’s brutality.”

The U.S. government said it was working to verify whether chemical weapons had been used.

State news media in Syria denied that government forces had used chemical weapons and accused the Islamist rebel group that controls Douma, the Army of Islam, of fabricating the videos to solicit international support as defeat loomed.

The attack occurred near the end of a monthslong push by the Syrian government to retake a group of towns east of Damascus known as Eastern Ghouta. The towns have been held by rebels seeking to topple Assad since the early years of the Syrian war, and the rebels have often shelled Damascus, killing civilians.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

BEN HUBBARD © 2018 The New York Times

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