Screen capture of lifeless bodies in the village of Kfar-Batna. Local activists claim these people were killed by chemical weapons. 
 
Early on Wednesday, several rebel-held villages in the eastern suburbs of Damascus were heavily bombarded by the Syrian army. Activists from this village have accused the Syrian regime of using chemical weapons during this operation. Two Syrian activists from the area weigh in on these claims.
 
The number of deaths in Wednesday’s attack remains unconfirmed. According to various opposition figures and activists, the toll varies between about 130 and 1,300. However, no independent source has been able to verify these figures.
 
The Syrian opposition believes that this alleged high number of casualties could be explained by the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army. During a press conference in Istanbul, the opposition Syrian National Coalition said that the international community’s inaction was tantamount to complicity. (On Wednesday, French foreign minister urged a reaction “with force” if the massacre is confirmed).
 
The Syrian rebels are sharing numerous videos that they claim proves the use of chemical weapons on Wednesday. Some show people covering up their faces. Other videos show people foaming at the mouth, and yet others show dozens of apparently lifeless bodies, many of them young children, with no visible wounds.
 
The Syrian army has vehemently denied using chemical attacks in Wednesday’s attack, calling the opposition’s claims “baseless.”
 
The series of bombings during which the opposition allege chemical weapons were used began just 48 hours after a team of 10 United Nations observers arrived in Damascus. After several months of negotiations between the Syrian government and the United Nations, these observers were allowed into the country to inspect whether or not chemical weapons were being used in the Syrian conflict.
 
In the past months, the United Kingdom, France and the United States have all accused the Syrian regime of using this type of weapon against rebels. Meanwhile, Russia, which is an ally of Syria, claims that the rebels used sarin gas back in March during fighting near the city of Aleppo.
 
Syria’s chemical weapons stock is believed to be one of the largest in the Middle East; however, very little information about it has been made public. Syria is one of the rare countries not to have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the stockpiling of such weapons.

Early on Wednesday, several rebel-held villages in the eastern suburbs of Damascus were heavily bombarded by the Syrian army. Activists from this village have accused the Syrian regime of using chemical weapons during this operation. Two Syrian activists from the area weigh in on these claims.

Bara Abdel-Rahman lives in Douma, in the suburbs of Damascus, where bombing has been taking place. He is the spokesperson for the Islam Brigade, one of the largest rebel brigades in the area.
 
The bombings targeted several villages in a perimeter of about 10 square kilometres in the region of Ghouta, east of Damascus. According to the information we’ve gathered, the rockets were launched from Mount Qassioun [Editor’s Note: where the presidential palace and several Republican Guard stations are located].
 
The areas that Syrian activists claim were hit by chemical-laden rockets.
 
The village that was the worst affected is Kfar-Batna, in the centre of the Ghouta region. [Editor’s Note: most of the videos circulating are labelled as having been filmed in this village]. The first batch of rockets fell around 3:30am in the morning [2:30am in Paris]. Among these, we believe about six or seven were laden with chemicals. Not long after, the same zone was again hit by rockets (this time without chemicals) and by mortar fire.
 
Then, at 7am [6am Paris time], another batch of seven chemical-laden rockets hit the zone again, but closer to Douma. In all, we estimate that 15 chemical-laden rockets were fired.
 
We learned the number of deaths, which is more than 1,000, directly from doctors at the six field hospitals in this area. They told us they’re lacking in medicines to treat the lesions caused by the toxic gases.
 
I think the regime doesn’t care that the UN inspectors are less than 5 kilometres away. On the contrary, by carrying out these bombings despite the observers’ presence, they’re sending a crystal-clear message to the international community.
 

"Why would the regime risks its own soldiers lives by using chemical weapons?"

Nabil (not his real name) is an opposition activist who lives in Damascus.
 
These claims of chemical weapons use raise several questions. In the past days, the Syrian army has been carrying out large-scale operations and has re-conquered part of the Ghouta region [in the east and west] by bombing the rebels relentlessly. The soldiers are present in some of the zones that the rebels say were hit by chemical weapons. Why would the regime risk the lives of its own soldiers by using such weapons there?
 
I am sceptical until there is further proof, as there have been other false alarms. In the beginning of the summer, rebels were also talking about a chemical weapons attack near Damascus, with witnesses saying they had smelled gas. It turned out that a factory that produced paint had been bombarded, and that the smell came from the chemicals used to make the paint.
 
I am also made suspicious by the fact that the vast majority of the videos circulating online were filmed inside houses, and come mainly from Kfar-Batna.
 
Bodies that the local rebels say belong to Kfar-Batna residents killed by chemical weapons. 

Usually, the rebels try to film all the details – the bombings as they happen, the victims’ evacuation, etc. Especially when several villages were hit! But strangely, that’s not what happened yesterday.
 
More bodies that the local rebels say belong to Kfar-Batna residents killed by chemical weapons.
 
And finally, I find it to be a strange coincidence that this happened just after the arrival of the UN observers, who are here to investigate the use of chemical weapons. Of course the bombings really did take place, and there were deaths, but there is no doubt that the rebels are trying to provoke an international reaction by any means possible. And what better way to do that than to invoke chemical weapons?
 
The rebels may also be trying to get the observers to deviate from their route [Editor’s Note: the observers are allowed to visit three places: Ataybah, near Damascus; Homs; and Khan al-Assal, near Aleppo.] Perhaps they think that if the observers come see what’s going on in Ghouta, the army will be forced to halt its progression there. If that’s the goal, I don’t think it will work, because knowing the regime, it will never let the UN team deviate from the initial plan.
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Wassim Nasr (@SimNasr).