Syria Ready to Start Rebel Talks

Syria Ready to Start Rebel TalksSyria Ready to Start Rebel Talks

The Syrian government said it would start negotiations on Sunday with the rebel group Jaish al-Islam.

There was no immediate comment from Jaish al-Islam, which claimed the government carried out a chemical attack in the town of Douma outside Damascus. At least 49 people were killed, according to a medical relief organization and Douma’s civil defense rescue service, Reuters reported.

Damascus has denied mounting any such attack and said the rebels in Douma, who are massively outgunned and completely encircled, were collapsing and spreading false news.

 “Jaish al-Islam terrorists have requested negotiations with the Syrian state, which will start the talks within … hours,” state TV cited an official source as saying on Sunday morning.

The US State Department said reports of mass casualties from the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma were “horrifying” and would, if confirmed, “demand an immediate response by the international community”.

In a joint statement, the Syrian American Medical Society, the relief organization, and Douma’s civil defense service said medical centers had received more than 500 cases of people suffering breathing difficulties in Douma on Saturday evening, frothing from the mouth and smelling of chlorine.

One of the victims was dead on arrival, and six died later, it said. Civil defense volunteers reported more than 42 cases of people dead at their homes showing the same symptoms, it said.

Reuters could not verify the reports. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 people had died of suffocation but could not say if chemical weapons had been used.

President Bashar al-Assad has won back control of nearly all of eastern Ghouta in a Russian-backed military campaign that began in February, leaving just Douma in rebel hands. After a lull of a few days, government forces began bombarding Douma again on Friday.


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