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Syria's Government Is Accused Of Being Behind Chemical Attack

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The United Nations Security Council will meet today to discuss the latest grim developments in Syria. Reports emerged over the weekend of a suspected chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Douma near the capital, Damascus. Doctors and local activists say dozens of people, many of them children, have died from a chemical agent that left them foaming at the mouth. President Trump has blamed the Syrian government for the attack. He also had harsh words for Iran and Russia for supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And the president said there will be a, quote, "big price to pay." We are joined now by NPR's Ruth Sherlock in Beirut.

Ruth, what are the signs that this was indeed a chemical weapons attack?

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hi. Yes, well, there's lots of videos emerging posted by pro-opposition activists online. They show people choking in hospitals, suffocating. And then there's also more video of people's homes - or of a building where there's a room full of bodies of people who appear to have died from some sort of chemical agent. We spoke to him by Moaed Dirani (ph), who's a Syrian photographer in Douma and a pro-opposition activist. And he says he went to a home where he found the bodies of men, women, children, babies who'd all died from - or appeared to have died from a chemical attack.

MOAED DIRANI: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: He says here - he says he's a witness to what he calls the chemical barrels that dropped on Douma. He says, "I saw the victims, and I saw them foaming at the mouth." Death tolls have varied, and it's difficult to get information from outside. But doctors and pro-opposition rescue workers we've spoken to say they count 42 people dead from - apparently with symptoms of suffering from a chemical agent.

MARTIN: What have you been able to learn about how that community is grappling with all this now?

SHERLOCK: Well, yeah, they're - so this alleged chemical attack happened in the midst of heavy, heavy bombardment. Douma is the last rebel-held town in the east Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. For a long time, this was a major threat to the Syrian government. And now - so in the last few days, the Syrian government has been heavily bombarding it, so they've been suffering from that, as well. They've been living under siege for years.

And finally, just now, the last rebel group there, Jaish al-Islam, appears to have agreed to a sort of surrender deal. So today, as they're grappling with the aftermath of these attacks, they're also having to get on buses and leave. In the deal, these rebel groups, and their families and other civilians who don't want to stay in the regime-held areas are getting on buses and being sent to a rebel-held enclave in the north of Syria, where they don't know if they're ever going to be able to return home - so really dramatic, and a dramatic and frightening time for these people.

MARTIN: NPR's Ruth Sherlock reporting this morning from Lebanon on the events in Syria. Thank you so much.

SHERLOCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.