The United States has called on Russia to end its unmitigated support for the Syrian government immediately and “work with the international community to prevent further, barbaric chemical weapons attacks.”
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that the United States is closely following reports April 7 of another alleged chemical weapons attack, this time targeting a hospital in Douma, Syria.
The statement said “Russia, with its unwavering support for the regime, ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks, targeting of countless civilians, and the suffocation of Syria’s most vulnerable communities with chemical weapons.”
Accusations of chemical bombs
Rebels claimed Syrian government forces dropped barrel bombs containing poisonous chemicals on civilians Saturday, killing dozens, as Syria continued its offensive against the last rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta.
Syrian state media denied the rebels’ claim, as troops launched an assault on Douma, near the capital Damascus.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the medical relief group Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) said at least 30 people in Douma had been killed in airstrikes Saturday, with dozens more injured.
SAMS said a chlorine bomb hit Douma hospital, however Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said he could not confirm the use of chemical weapons.
The fighting comes after other rebel groups in Ghouta accepted a safe passage to rebel-held areas northeast of Aleppo.
Government troops advance
The cease-fire effectively ended Friday, when Syrian troops have launched a ground and air assault on Douma.
The government forces pressed their offensive against the last rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta under the cover of airstrikes as shelling of civilian areas on both sides claimed more lives, state media and opposition activists said.
Syrian government forces resumed their offensive on rebel-held Douma on Friday afternoon after the10-day truce collapsed over disagreement regarding evacuation of opposition fighters. Violence resumed days after hundreds of opposition fighters and their relatives left Douma for rebel-held areas in northern Syria.
A reporter for Lebanon’s Al-Manar TV embedded with Syrian troops near Douma said government forces advanced toward Douma from the towns of Misraba and Madiara that were recently captured by troops. Al-Manar TV is run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah group that has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to back government forces.
Street fighting expected
The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said government forces captured several farms Saturday on the southern and western edges of the city that is home to tens of thousands of people. SCMM said the area controlled by the Army of Islam in and around Douma is 19 square kilometers (7.3 square miles).
By Saturday evening, state media was reported that troops are approaching Army of Islam fortifications on the edge of the town adding that street battles could begin soon. It said warplanes bombarded the group’s headquarters and command and control center.
State TV said Army of Islam fighters pelted several neighborhoods in Damascus with mortar shells killing six civilians and wounding more than 30.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bombardment of Douma killed eight people and wounded 48, including 15 children.
On Friday, opposition activists said 40 people were killed in Douma while state media said four were killed in government-held Damascus.
Turkish forces in the north
In northern Syria, the Turkish military said on its Twitter account that it has established the ninth observation post in the rebel-held province of Idlib as part of the de-escalation agreement with Russia and Iran. Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency said the military convoy reached the town of Morek in Idlib province.
Eastern Ghouta was also part of the same de-escalation plan signed last year in the Kazakh capital Astana. Turkey’s presidential spokesman said that the Turkish military presence in Idlib would serve as a “guarantee” against attacks to ensure that it does not meet the same fate as eastern Ghouta.
This story was written by VOA News with contributions from Associated Press writers Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul and Jim Heintz in Moscow.