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Syrian rescuers allege chlorine gas dropped on town near where a Russian helicopter was shot down

Saraqeb was first hit by chemical attacks in 2013, with strong evidence suggesting it came from government helicopters

by Davide Mastracci
Aug 2 2016, 3:05pm

Ciudadanos de Araqeb con máscaras de oxígeno. Captura de pantalla vía Defensa Civil Siria. Imagen fechada el 1 de agosto de 2016 en Saraqeb, Siria.

Barrels of toxic gas were dropped by a helicopter on a northern Syrian town just hours after a Russian helicopter was shot down by ground fire from nearby Aleppo on Monday, according to doctors and rescue groups on the ground.

A spokesperson for Syria Civil Defence, a group of volunteer search and rescuers who work in opposition-controlled regions of Syria, told Reuters that 33 people — mostly women and children — were impacted by the gas attack that took place in Saraqeb. They suspect it's chlorine gas, but could not say for sure. A Youtube video released by the group shows men being given oxygen masks, in what they say is the aftermath of the attack.

Abdel Aziz Bareeh, a doctor working in Saraqeb, told the BBC that the helicopter dropped two barrels of chlorine gas on the town. "We know it's chlorine because we were hit by it in the past and we are familiar with its odor and symptoms," he said.

The Syrian National Coalition has accused president Bashar al-Assad of being behind this chemical attack.

A statement from the group claims, "after shelling, besieging and killing civilians and perpetrating war crimes on them, the Assad regime has resorted once again, and in breach of UN resolutions 2118 and 2235, to using chemical substances and toxic gasses."

The Syrian government has not yet released a statement, according to Reuters, but Assad has denied previous charges of being involved in chemical attacks on the town.

Saraqeb was first hit by chemical attacks in 2013, with strong evidence suggesting it came from government helicopters, according to the BBC.

The SCD says there has been at least nine suspected chlorine gas attacks in the Idlib province, where Saraqeb is located, since the conflict began.

UN investigators found that sarin gas was used in a 2013 attack in Eastern Ghouta, where over 1420 people were killed. The United States accused the Syrian regime of being behind that attack, which they denied, blaming it on rebel forces.

The rebels have denied all accusations throughout the conflict that they've used chemical weapons.

In January 2016, the United Nations and the Syrian regime announced that the state's declared stockpile of chemical weapons was entirely destroyed, a process initiated in late 2013 following the attack in Eastern Ghouta.

The downing of the Russian helicopter near Saraqeb just hours before the alleged gas attack was the deadliest incident for Russian forces since they got directly involved in the conflict. All five people onboard the helicopter were killed.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for shooting down the helicopter.

Related: A Russian helicopter was shot down in Syria, killing 5

Follow Davide Mastracci on Twitter: @davidemastracci

war and conflict
chemical warfare
toxic gas