EASTERN GHOUTA OF DAMASCUS, SYRIA (AUGUST 21, 2013) (SOCIAL MEDIA WEBSITE) - Syrian activists accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of launching a nerve gas attack that killed at least 213 people on Wednesday (August 21), in what would, if confirmed, be by far the worst reported use of poison gas in the two-year-old civil war.
Reuters was not able to verify the accounts independently and they were denied by Syrian state television, which said they were disseminated deliberately to distract a team of United Nations chemical weapons experts which arrived three days ago.
Extensive amateur video posted on a social media website and said to be filmed on Wednesday were claimed to show the aftermath of the alleged attack.
The footage, which could not be verified by Reuters, appeared to show a room filled with bodies, many of them children and a few women and elderly men.
Most of the bodies appeared ashen or pale but with no visible injuries.
About a dozen were wrapped in blankets.
"August 21, 2013, Eastern Ghouta, these are cases of asphyxia as a result of the chemical bombing in Zamalka city and Ain Tarma, God is great," said one speaker in the video.
Other footage seemed to show doctors treating people in makeshift clinics.
"Suburb Damascus, Erbin. God is great. A real massacre. A Massacre against women in the town of Erbin due chemical bombing on Erbin and Ain Tarma," said another speaker in one of the amateur video clips.
Syrian state television quoted a source as saying there was "no truth whatsoever" to the reports.
It said the accusations were disseminated deliberately to distract the team of United Nations chemical weapons experts which arrived three days ago.
Syria is one of just a handful of countries that are not parties to the international treaty that bans chemical weapons, and Western nations believe it has caches of undeclared mustard gas, sarin and VX nerve agents.
Assad's officials have said they would never use poison gas - if they had it - against Syrians. The United States and European allies believe Assad's forces used small amounts of sarin gas in attacks in the past, which Washington called a "red line" that justified international military aid for the rebels.
Assad's government has responded in the past with accusations that it was the rebels that used chemical weapons, which the rebels deny. Western countries say they do not believe the rebels have access to poison gas. Assad's main global allyMoscow says accusations on both sides must be investigated.
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