White House and UN condemn chemical warfare ahead of emergency meeting on Syria

The White House has said it is “deeply concerned” and the United Nations “shocked” to hear reports of alleged chemical attacks on rebel forces on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria today.

Opposition forces in Syria say rockets with toxic agents were launched at the suburbs of the Ghouta region today, resulting in the deaths of hundreds. The Syrian army claims the accusations have been fabricated.

Speaking to the BBC, one of the doctors treating the injured – many of whom are reported to be children – said:

There are some kind of symptoms that tell us that this is phosphorus, which is a chemical weapon. It may be sarin, most probably it's sarin. We don't have the capability to treat all this number of people. We're putting them in mosques, in schools. We are lacking medical supplies now, especially atropine, which is the antidote for chemical weapons.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US government strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons.

The United States is deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of Syrian civilians have been killed in an attack by Syrian government forces, including by the use of chemical weapons, near Damascus earlier today.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for UN secretary general Bank Ki-Moon said:

The Secretary-General is shocked to hear the reports of the alleged use today of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus….

The United Nations mission to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria is following the current situation in Syria carefully, and remains fully engaged in the investigation process that is mandated by the Secretary General….

The Secretary-General is aware that a number of Member States, the Arab League and the European Union have expressed grave concern about the most recent reports of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. The Secretary-General reaffirms his determination to ensure a thorough investigation of the reported alleged incidents that are brought to his attention by Member States.

The Secretary-General reiterates that any use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances would violate international humanitarian law.

The United Nations Security Council will be holding an emergency meeting at 20:00 (BST) today to discuss further action.

But in a letter to Republican Eliot Engel dated 19 August and quoted by the Associated Press, the US joint chiefs of staff chairman General Martin Dempsey warned against a US military attack against Syria.

We can destroy the Syrian air force. But it would also escalate and potentially further commit the United States to the conflict.

Stated another way, it would not be militarily decisive, but it would commit us decisively to the conflict.