Following a Saturday night attack, dozens of Syrians suffocated from the use of chemical weapons, rescue teams and other aid groups told international media. The reports of what happened in Douma, Syria has locals accusing the Bashar al-Assad government of having once again used chemical weapons. Both the Assad regime and Russia, which supports the Syrian government, deny mounting a chemical attack.
The amount of people killed ranges in number from 42 to 70, depending on the count. Raed al-Saleh, head of the White Helmets, a volunteer search and rescue team operating in rebel-held parts of the country, tweeted that the number of casualties was as high as 150, the BBC reported.
Foreign media and NGO workers are not able to reach the area, as it is blocked off by the Syrian forces. The United States has focused its critiques on Russia. According to Reuters, the U.S. Department of State said:
The regime’s history of using chemical weapons against its own people in not in dispute. Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the brutal targeting of countless Syrians with chemical weapons.
Photos from the attack show victims, mostly young children, having difficulty breathing. Many are using oxygen masks. Reports from rescue workers point to even worse symptoms including foaming of the mouth, burns on the corneas, and convulsions. As many as 500 people sought medical attention following the attack, the Civil Defense and the Syrian American Medical Society said.
This is not the first time that Russia has been blamed by the State Department for chemical attacks. Back in January then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also said that "Russia ultimately bears responsibility" for chemical attacks in the country. There have been a number of suspected chemical attacks this year near Eastern Ghouta, another suburb of Damascus.
In 2013, Ghouta, was the site of a significant chemical attack. Chemical weapons had been a "red line" for President Obama, and he struggled in responding. Ultimately he worked to have the chemical weapons removed from the country. Some 87 percent of the country's chemical stockpiles were removed as of 2014.
The official State Department response Sunday noted the continuity of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. "The United States continues to use all efforts available to hold those who use chemical weapons, in Syria and otherwise, accountable," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. "The regime's history of using chemical weapons against its own people is not in dispute, and in fact nearly one year ago on April 4, 2017, Assad's forces conducted a sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, which killed approximately 100 Syrians."
Nauert's statement also called on Russia to take moves to prevent "further, barbaric chemical weapons attacks."
President Trump also stuck with the official messaging, blaming Russia in his Twitter post. "Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria," Trump tweeted. "Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!"
Trump has shared contradictory thoughts on how to proceed in Syria in recent weeks. He said at the end of March that he wanted the U.S. military out of the conflict. "We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon," the president said at an event in Ohio.
In the past week, the BBC reported that Trump was convinced by advisers not to pull out immediately. Now, following the latest chemical attack, his position could once again be in flux. In his latest tweet Sunday, he blamed Obama for the ongoing conflict.