Anti-government activists claimed Syrian military helicopters dropped barrel bombs filled with chemicals on Douma, east of the capital Damascus, on Saturday night, suffocating some residents and sending others into violent convulsions.
Graphic footage shot by rescuers and activists show people — including children — dead and injured, some ghostly white and foaming at the mouth in makeshift medical centers. Others were found suffocated in their homes, according to first responders.
On Sunday the Syrian government and Russia, its key ally, vehemently denied involvement and accused rebels in Douma of fabricating the chemical attack claims in order to hinder the army’s advances and provoke international military intervention.
President Donald Trump has been briefed on the attack, a White House official told ABC News on Sunday. The State Department described the incident as “horrifying” and said that if the use of chemical agents in the attack was confirmed, it would “demand an immediate response by the international community.”
At least 48 people died and 500 others displayed symptoms similar to exposure to “toxic gas” in the Douma area on Saturday, said the White Helmets rescue group and the Syrian American Medical Society, a charity, in a joint statement on Sunday.
Other groups have announced varying death tolls in the wake of the attack. CNN could not independently verify the authenticity of the footage or the reports.
Following the attack on Saturday night, doctors in Eastern Ghouta saw patients convulsing and some who appeared to be paralyzed and unresponsive, an official with the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) told CNN.
The official, who asked to be identified as Dr. Jad and is in touch with local doctors, said one of the affected areas was the residential area of Masaken, where hundreds of civilians reside in underground shelters.
The attack comes as Syrian forces are on the verge of recapturing Douma, the last town held by rebels in Eastern Ghouta, following a brutal offensive launched in mid-February.
Sources close to the Syrian army told CNN that the military had advanced nearly a kilometer into the Douma area on Saturday.