Doctors Without Borders: 355 died in Syria attack
on 24/08/2013 17:45:35
The Paris-based humanitarian aid group said that three hospitals it supports in the Damascus region reported receiving roughly 3,600 patients who showed such symptoms over less than three hours on Wednesday.
"Medical staff working in these facilities provided detailed information to Médecins Sans Frontières doctors regarding large numbers of patients arriving with symptoms including convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress," said Dr. Bart Janssens, Médecins Sans Frontières director of operations.
Patients were treated using Médecins Sans Frontières-supplied atropine, a drug used to treat neurotoxic symptoms.
Médecins Sans Frontières is now trying to replenish the facilities' empty stocks and provide additional medical supplies and guidance.
"Médecins Sans Frontières can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack," said Dr. Janssens.
"However, the reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of the events-characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers-strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent.
"This would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, which absolutely prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons."
A debate has ensued about who was behind the alleged gas attack on rebel-held Damascus suburbs that activists previously said killed more than 130 people.
The attack has spurred demands for an independent investigation and renewed talk of potential international military action, if chemical weapons were indeed used.
Anti-government activists accuse the Syrian government of carrying out the toxic gas attack on the eastern suburbs of Damascus and have reported death tolls ranging from 136 to 1,300.
Syrian state media earlier accused rebels of using chemical arms against government troops trying to storm a contested area of Damascus, claiming a major army offensive in recent days had forced the opposition fighters to resort to such weapons "as their last card".
State TV broadcast images of plastic jugs, gas masks, vials of an unspecified medication, explosives and other items that it said were seized from rebel hideouts.
It did not, however, show any video of soldiers reportedly affected by toxic gas in the fighting in the Jobar neighbourhood of Damascus.