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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 July 2018

WHO demands immediate access to Syrian victims of chemical attack

World Health Organisation said about 500 people showed signs consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals

A Syrian boy sits at a camp for the displaced after buses carrying Jaish Al Islam fighters and their families from their former rebel bastion of Douma arrived at the camp in Al Bil, east of the rebel-held town of Azaz in northern Syria, on April 10, 2018. Nazeer Al Khatib / AFP
A Syrian boy sits at a camp for the displaced after buses carrying Jaish Al Islam fighters and their families from their former rebel bastion of Douma arrived at the camp in Al Bil, east of the rebel-held town of Azaz in northern Syria, on April 10, 2018. Nazeer Al Khatib / AFP

The World Health Organisation on Wednesday demanded immediate access to the victims of a chemical attack in Syria, as the Kremlin urged countries to avoid taking action that could further destabilise the war-torn country.

"We should all be outraged at these horrific reports and images from Douma" where Saturday's attack took place, said Peter Salama, the UN agency's chief of emergency response.

"WHO demands immediate unhindered access to the area to provide care to those affected, to assess the health impacts, and to deliver a comprehensive public health response.”

Citing information previously released by local health organisations, WHO said that around 500 people taken to health facilities exhibited “signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals".

"There were signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems of those exposed," the statement added.

The US, Britain and France have argued the incident bears all the hallmarks of a strike ordered by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Russia on Wednesday urged restraint in Syria, as the Trump administration considered missile strikes over the alleged chemical attacks.

"As before we would hope that all sides will avoid steps that in reality are not provoked by anything and that could destabilise the already fragile situation in the region," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “The situation is tense.”

He added that Russia is calling for an "unprejudiced and objective investigation before making judgements" on the suspected use of chemical weapons.

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Russia vetoed on Tuesday at the UN Security Council a US-drafted resolution on setting up a panel to identify the perpetrators of toxic gas attacks after chemical weapons were allegedly used in the rebel-held town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta.

Russia has said its military specialists found no evidence of a chemical attack on Saturday in Douma and suggested that rebels staged or spread rumours of an attack to pin the blame on Damascus.

Mr Assad has been blamed for previous attacks by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and UN-backed war crimes investigators.

Meanwhile, airlines have been warned to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean due to the possible launch of air strikes in Syria in the next 72 hours.

“Due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours, and the possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment, due consideration needs to be taken when planning flight operations in the Eastern Mediterranean/Nicosia FIR area," Eurocontrol said, referring to the designated airspace.