US holds Russia ‘ultimately responsible’ amid reports of dozens gassed in Syria’s Douma

US holds Russia ‘ultimately responsible’ amid reports of dozens gassed in Syria’s Douma
The US once again said Russia is "ultimately bearing responsibility" for all chemical incidents in Syria, regardless of who carried them out, after rebel sources accused Damascus of gassing dozens in Eastern Ghouta's Douma.

"The regime's history of using chemical weapons against its own people is not in dispute," said the US State Department, indicating, however, that it was relying on "reports," being unable to confirm the incident. "Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the brutal targeting of countless Syrians with chemical weapons."

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Earlier on Saturday, rebel-linked activists, including the notorious 'civil defense' group White Helmets, accused the Syrian government of carrying out a chemical attack that allegedly affected dozens of civilians in the militant-controlled town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta. The Syrian government, which regards the White Helmets as a foreign-funded terrorist propaganda mouthpiece, rejected these "fabrications."

"Jaysh al-Islam terrorists are repeating the allegations of using chemical weapons in order to accuse the Syrian Arab army, in a blatant attempt to hinder the Army's advance," SANA reported, citing an official government source, who added that militants have likely launched this latest propaganda campaign fearing their imminent "dramatic collapse." 

Despite the lack of verified evidence thus far, Washington did not miss a chance to label Moscow as complicit and 'ultimately' responsible for the incident, due to its support of President Bashar Assad. Previously, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson regularly took advantage of well-timed reports of chemical incidents, including in East Ghouta, to push through the US agenda in Syria.

"We continue to receive reports and assess information regarding the alleged attack," the US Department of State's representative told Sputnik in a separate statement on Saturday. "Russia's protection of the Assad regime and failure to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria calls into question its commitment to resolving the overall crisis."

In a follow-up comment, the State Department urged the international community to act “immediately” – if the incident is confirmed – and advised Russia to end its “unmitigated” support for the Syrian government.

The Russian military dismissed as false reports that the Syrian government had carried out a chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta's Douma.

"We strongly refute this information," Major General Yury Yevtushenko, head of the Reconciliation Center in Syria, said in a statement on Sunday. "We declare our readiness, after Douma is liberated from the militants, to immediately send Russian radiation, chemical and biological protection specialists to collect data that will confirm the fabricated nature of these allegations," he stated.

Yevtushenko said that "a number of Western countries" are trying to prevent the resumption of an operation aimed at driving militants from the city of Douma.

"For this purpose, the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces – one of the most widespread claims in the West – is being used," he added.

Reports of chemical attacks, blamed on Damascus, previously surfaced on a number of occasions, and were often backed by a stream of horrific visuals disseminated via social media channels by the White Helmets. Saturday's incident follows the same pattern, where, as always, the White Helmets found themselves at the right place at the right time to take graphic pictures of the alleged chemical attack victims. Shocking images of dead kids with foaming mouths surfaced immediately after the accusations were made. 

"Seventy people suffocated to death and hundreds still suffocating," Raed al-Saleh, head of the White Helmets, told Al Jazeera, adding that the death toll was expected to rise as many people were in critical condition. According to al-Saleh, the mass casualties are a result of a chlorine gas attack, as well as an "unidentified but stronger gas," that was allegedly dropped by government planes on Douma on Saturday. 

Quite surprisingly, the controversial UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is usually among the first sources that confirm atrocities by Damascus, could not confirm that chemical weapons had been used, and said casualties might have been a result of fire and toxic smoke following a conventional airstrike. Thus Reuters, while admitting it "could not independently verify reports of a chemical attack," sought a comment from another obscure organization, the Syrian American Medical Society. A US-based SAMS representative claimed that, while a "chlorine bomb hit Douma hospital," another nearby building was targeted by a barrel-bomb containing a mix that included "nerve agents." 

The situation in Douma escalated after Jaysh al-Islam militants breached all agreements, shelling Damascus and terrorizing civilians to derail evacuations, the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria said in its daily report, issued before the claims of a chemical attack emerged.

"The Jaysh al-Islam militants carried out a number of attacks against the SAA [Syrian Armed Forces] positions and conducted mortar and missile shelling against Damascus," the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria said Saturday. "Over the last 48 hours, militants fired 25 mines and rocket projectiles at the capital and its suburbs. As a result, seven civilians were killed and 42 people injured. Shelling attacks are intensifying."

Terrorists also continue to use civilians as human shields, the MoD noted, adding that militants are "publicly executing civilians" who support the withdrawal of militants from Douma.

"Jaysh al-Islam terrorists breached [the] Douma agreement by attacking with mortar and rocket shells several residential areas of Damascus, claiming lives and injuring dozens of civilians, including women and children," Sana meanwhile reported.

Previously faced with accusations, Moscow has repeatedly denied involvement in attacking civilians in Syria, and reiterated on a number of occasions that unsubstantiated reports of atrocities and 'false flag' chemical incidents always surface at the time when militant factions in Syria are losing ground, and are likely aimed at derailing the reconciliation process in Syria.

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