An international humanitarian organisation working in Syria has reported that thousands of patients have been brought into Damascus hospitals suffering from “neurotoxic symptoms” after an alleged chemical attack days ago.
Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, has been collaborating with medical providers inside Syria since 2012, and provided drugs, medical equipment, and other support. According to a press release, three hospitals in Damascus reported receiving approximately 3,600 patients, 355 of which reportedly died.
The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons, and has instead blamed rebel forces for the recent attack.
“MSF can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack,” said Dr. Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations, in a press release. “However, the reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of the events — characterised by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers — strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent. This would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, which absolutely prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons.”
If confirmed, the alleged attack on three neighborhoods just before dawn on Aug. 21 — possibly killing more than 750 people — would be the worst chemical weapons attack since Saddam Hussein killed an estimated 5,000 with poison gas in 1988.
Horrifying video footage of victims suffering after the alleged attack has stoked international outrage, with many calling for a U.S.-led response.
“If, in fact, this was a deliberate use and attack by the Syrian government on its own people using chemical weapons, there may be another attack coming,” Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday. “A very quick assessment of what happened and whatever appropriate response should be made.”
As the U.N. investigates the attack, Hagel said, the Defence Department has been prepared “to provide a range of contingencies to the president.”
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