The world has looked on in horror today as graphic images emerged showing the aftermath of a dawn poison gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus that wiped out 1,300 people as they lay sleeping in their beds.
Syrian activists accuse President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of launching the nerve gas attack in what would be by far the worst reported use of poison gas in the two-year-old civil war.
Activists said rockets with chemical agents hit the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar before dawn.
While these pictures of dead children are graphic, disturbing and undoubtedly the worst so far to have emerged from the conflict, MailOnline has made the decision to publish them in order to raise awareness of the plight of innocent people in a war that shows no sign of ending.
The accounts could not be verified independently and were denied by Syrian state television, which said they were disseminated deliberately to distract a team of United Nations chemical weapons experts that arrived three days ago.
Syria’s Information Minister called the activists’ claim a ‘disillusioned and fabricated one whose objective is to deviate and mislead’ the UN mission.
Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from neighbouring Jordan, said there were videos allegedly showing both children and adults in field hospitals, some of them suffocating, coughing and sweating.
‘We have been receiving reports that the doctors in the field hospitals do not have the right medication to treat these cases and that they were treating people with vinegar and water,’ she said.
Meanwhile, fighting in strife-hit country has fuelled a mass exodus of about 35,000 refugees into Iraq and risks exploding into a full-blown side conflict as Kurdish militias battled against al-Qaida-linked fighters in the northeast.
SARIN: ONE OF THE MOST DEADLY CHEMICAL AGENTS
Activists say the nerve agent Sarin was used in the alleged chemical weapons attack that killed up to 1,300 people.
Sarin is colourless, tasteless and odourless, unlike mustard gas which smells of rotten onions or garlic.
It is one of the most toxic of the known chemical warfare agents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Once a person has breathed in Sarin, death can occur within one to 10 minutes if there is no treatment.
If it is drunk, the victim can survive for up to 18 hours.
A fraction of an ounce of the nerve agent on the skin can be fatal.
Exposure to the gas causes pupils to shrink to pinpoint sizes and foaming at the lips.
Symptoms include paralysis, loss of consciousness and respiratory failure.
Treatment needs to be given straight away and antidotes include Atropine and pralidoxime chloride.
Syria is believed to have one of the largest arsenals in the world of chemical weapons, including Sarin and mustard gas.
A U.N. team is in Syria investigating allegations that both rebels and army forces used poison gas in the past, one of the main disputes in international diplomacy over Syria.
The European Union condemned the suspected use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces Wednesday as ‘totally unacceptable’, demanding an immediate investigation.
EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton said charges by Syria’s main opposition group that the chemical attack ‘should be immediately and thoroughly investigated.’
A UN mission in Syria to probe previous allegations of chemical weapons use ‘must be allowed full and unhindered access to all sites,’ Ashton said, according to a spokesperson.
‘The EU reiterates that any use of chemical weapons, by any side in Syria, would be totally unacceptable,’ she said.
The authorities and all other parties in Syria ‘need to provide all necessary support to and cooperation with the mission’s operations,’ Ashton said as she gathered EU foreign ministers for a meeting on the crisis in Egypt.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking in Brussels, said if proven the use of chemical weapons would ‘not only be a massacre, but also an unprecedented atrocity’.
Fabius said however that the accusations from the Syrian opposition were ‘not yet verified’.
The White House says it’s ‘deeply concerned’ about reports that chemical weapons were used by Syria’s government against civilians.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the U.S. strongly condemns any use of chemical weapons and says the Obama administration is urgently working to gather information. Earnest says the U.S. is asking the U.N. to investigate and wants a Security Council debate.
Syria must allow the UN inspectors immediate access to investigate claims that chemical weapons were used in the attack, William Hague has demanded.
The Foreign Secretary said that uncorroborated reports of toxic agents being used would mark a ‘shocking escalation’ if they are verified and warned that those who use them ‘should be in no doubt that we will work in every way we can to hold them to account’.
Mr Hague said: ‘I am deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of people, including children, have been killed in air strikes and a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas near Damascus.’
He added before a meeting with his French counterpart: ‘I hope this will wake up some who have supported the Assad regime to realise its murderous and barbaric nature.’
Russia, too, urged an ‘objective’ investigation but Assad’s biggest foreign ally also heaped scepticism on his enemies’ claims.
A foreign ministry spokesman in Moscow said the release of gas after UN inspectors arrived suggested that it was a rebel ‘provocation’ to discredit Syria’s government.
Read more: Daily Mail