Documentation from chemical weapon attack Damascus
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Reuters
FILE PHOTO: A man holds the body of a dead child among bodies of people activists say were killed by nerve gas in the Ghouta region near Damascus August 21, 2013. Photo by Reuters

Syria's military command denied opposition reports that the army had used chemical weapons on Wednesday against districts east of Damascus, saying they were a sign of "hysteria and floundering" by President Bashar Assad's opponents.

The denial was issued by an officer speaking on state television. Information Minister Omran Zoabi said the allegations were "illogical and fabricated".   Activists said rockets with chemical agents hit the suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar in the Ghouta region, while several news sources are reporting at least 10 different villages targeted.

Bayan Baker, a nurse at Douma Emergency Collection facility, said the death toll from the attack, collated from medical centers in the region, was 213. The Local Coordination Committees in Syria said 755 people were killed.

"Many of the casualties are women and children. They arrived with their pupils dilated, cold limbs and foam in their mouths. The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims," she said.

One photo purportedly taken by activists in Douma showed the bodies of at least 16 children and three adults, one wearing combat fatigues, laid at the floor of a room in a medical facility where the bodies were collected.

There was no immediate comment from Syrian authorities, who have denied using chemical weapons during the country's two-year conflict, and have accused rebels of using them, which the rebels deny.

The incident took place during the visit to Damascus of a United Nations chemical weapons team investigating the possible use of chemical agents in Syria.

The United States and European countries say they believe Assad's government has used poison gas including the nerve agent Sarin in the past, which Washington called a "red line" that justified international military aid to the rebels.

Khaled Omar of the opposition local council in Ain Tarma said he saw at least 80 bodies at the Hajjah Hospital in Ain Tarma and at a makeshift clinic at Tatbiqiya School in the nearby district of Saqba.

"The attack took place at around 3:00 A.M. Most of those killed were in their homes," Omar said.

The head of the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors in Syria, Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, said the reports must be investigated.

Sellstrom told news agency TT that while he had only seen TV footage, the high number of casualties reported sounded suspicious.

"It sounds like something that should be looked into," he told TT by phone from Damascus. "It will depend on whether any UN member state goes to the secretary general and says we should look at this event. We are in place."

The Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby urged inspectors to immediately investigate reports.

"The secretary general said in a statement he was surprised this deplorable crime would happen during the visit of a team of international investigators with the United Nations who arealready tasked with investigating chemical weapons use," the official news agency MENA said."He called on the inspectors to head immediately to theeastern Ghouta (suburb of Damascus) to determine what happened."

Britain said on Wednesday that it would raise the reports at the United Nations Security Council and called on Damascus to give UN inspectors access to the site.

"I am deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of people, including children, have been killed in airstrikes and a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas near Damascus," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

The head of the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors in Syria, Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, said the reports must be investigated.

Sellstrom told news agency TT that while he had only seen TV footage, the high number of casualties reported sounded suspicious.

"It sounds like something that should be looked into," he told TT by phone from Damascus. "It will depend on whether any UN member state goes to the secretary general and says we should look at this event. We are in place."

The Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby urged inspectors to immediately investigate reports.

"The secretary general said in a statement he was surprised this deplorable crime would happen during the visit of a team of international investigators with the United Nations who are already tasked with investigating chemical weapons use," the official news agency MENA said. "He called on the inspectors to head immediately to the eastern Ghouta (suburb of Damascus) to determine what happened."

Britain said on Wednesday that it would raise the reports at the United Nations Security Council. Both Britain and France also called on Damascus to give UN inspectors access to the site.

"I am deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of people, including children, have been killed in airstrikes and a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas near Damascus," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.