Syrian opposition activists and rescuers said Sunday that a poison gas attack on a rebel-held town near the capital has killed at least 40 people, reports the AP. The alleged attack in Douma occurred late Saturday amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce with the Army of Islam rebel group. First responders said they found families suffocated in homes and shelters, with foam on their mouths. The Syrian Civil Defense were able to document 42 fatalities but were impeded by strong odors that gave rescuers difficulties breathing, said a rep for the group, known as the White Helmets. A statement by the White Helmets and the Syrian American Medical Society, a relief group, said more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were brought to medical centers with difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth, and burning of the eyes. It said patients gave off a chlorine-like smell. Some had blue skin, a sign of oxygen deprivation.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 80 were killed, including around 40 from suffocation. But it said the suffocations were the result of shelters collapsing on people inside. "Until this minute, no one has been able to find out the kind of agent that was used," said the White Helmets' rep. He said the government was also targeting homes, clinics, and first responder facilities with conventional explosives and barrel bombs. Videos posted online by the White Helmets showed victims, including toddlers in diapers, breathing through oxygen masks at makeshift hospitals. The Syrian government said the claims were "fabrications. ... The army, which is advancing rapidly and with determination, does not need to use any kind of chemical agents," it said. Says a State Department rep, per CNN: "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."