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Russia bombs Syrian rebels after suspected gas attack

Russian aircraft bombed rebel-held areas in northern Syria on Sunday after officials from Moscow and Damascus said more than 100 people were treated for a suspected poison gas attack.

The Russian Defence Ministry yesterday said its aircraft launched strikes on “the identified positions of terrorist artillery in the area that shelled civilians in the city of Aleppo”. Both Moscow and Damascus say shells were fired from rebel-held areas carrying toxic gas, which injured 100 people on Saturday.

“According to our preliminary information, confirmed in particular by symptoms of poisoning among the victims, the shells used to bombard residential areas of Aleppo were filled with chlorine (gas)” Russian Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in the statement. Zaher Batal, the head of the Aleppo Doctors Syndicate, said it was not known “the kinds of gases [used] but we suspected chlorine and treated patients on this basis because of the symptoms”. State media showed images of residents being treated in hospital as they struggled to breathe.

The rebels have denied carrying out any poison gas attacks and accuse the government of trying to undermine the de-militarisation agreement for Idlib reached by Russia and Turkey in September during a summit in the Russian city of Sochi.

Abdel-Salam Abdel-Razak, an official from the jihadist terrorist group Nour al-Din al-Zinki, tweeted: “The criminal regime, under Russian instructions, is trying to accuse the rebels of using toxic substances in Aleppo. This is purely a lie.” Abu Omar, a spokesman from the rebel-group Failaq al-Sham, accused Damascus of trying to create “a malicious charade” as a pretext to attack rebel towns.

The Syrian Government has urged the UN to condemn the attack. A joint team from the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons accused Syria of using chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015, and the nerve agent sarin in an attack in April 2017 in the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed about 100 people.