Up to 1,300 people are dead in what's believed to have been a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar before dawn on Wednesday morning, members of the Syrian opposition groups have said.
Blame has been placed on the Bashar Al-Assad regime for the reported attack, though the Syrian government has denied that a chemical weapon attack occurred, saying that the government would never use chemical weapons on Syrians.
Images allegedly showing footage of the aftermath of the attack depict bodies, including those of children, partially draped in blankets with no obvious physical wounds. Other images show people choking and foaming at the mouth.
According to Reuters, doctors in the area were reporting symptoms in patients that indicated that they were exposed to sarin gas.
It has yet to be confirmed whether a chemical attack actually occurred, though many find the timing of the report to be suspicious, as United Nations weapons inspectors entered Syria only three days ago.
“[T]he timing is odd, bordering on suspicious,” wrote BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner. “Why would the Assad government, which has recently been retaking ground from the rebels, carry out a chemical attack while UN weapons inspectors are in the country?”
“It would be very peculiar if it was the government to do this at the exact moment the international inspectors come into the country,” said Rolf Ekeus, a former Swedish diplomat and head of UN weapons inspectors who investigated Iraq in the 1990s.
“At the least, it wouldn’t be very clever.”
Last year, the Obama administration warned that use of chemical weapons by Assad would be crossing a “red line” with direct U.S. intervention a possible result.
A chemical weapon was confirmed to have been used in Syria this past March, which was also blamed on the Assad regime. Despite the accusations, there remains evidence that the Syrian rebels, who are comprised mainly of foreign jihadists and al Qaeda members, have been planning to stage a chemical attack and blame it on Assad as a means to bring in Western intervention in the war. This includes an allegedly hacked e-mail from British defense contractor Britam Defense in which a Washington approved plan to stage chemical attacks is discussed, though the company claims this was a hoax.
In May, a UN commission stated that it had evidence that rebels launched March's attack.