The Bashar al-Assad regime conducted its reported chemical weapon strikes Wednesday on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus in preparation for a military campaign on the embattled areas, an activist told NOW amid reports of heavy shelling outside the Syrian capital.
“The regime was unable to get into [Damascus’] eastern Ghouta [areas] for ten months, so it resorted to using chemical weapons as an introduction to a surge in the area,” Mohammad Salaheddine—an activist media figure in the Damascus suburbs—told NOW hours after reports emerged that over 700 civilians had been killed in sarin gas strikes outside Damascus.
As the death toll for the attacks continued to mount, heavy artillery and missile fire rained downed on the eastern suburbs of Damascus, with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television reporting that regime forces had begun a campaign outside the capital.
The activist Shaam News Network said in the early afternoon that surface-to-surface missiles were striking the Jobar area of the Syrian capital, while Salaheddine warned that regime “convoys are mobilizing in Zabaltani and [Damascus’ nearby] Abbasid Square [area] to surround Jobar.”
“Air Force Intelligence units are coming from Harasta to hit Zamalka and Ain Tarma and inner [areas of the eastern] Ghouta [suburbs],” the activist also said.
However, Salaheddine added that “[regime] tanks have not been able to come into [rebel-held eastern Ghouta] yet. The Free Syrian Army destroyed one of them, and there are very strong clashes now.”
“Now, Zamalka and Ain Tarma are almost completely empty. The residents have left to Ghouta proper, to Al-Basateen and other [areas]” in order to escape the affected areas, he also said.
Meanwhile, an activist told NOW via Skype that regime forces were also pressing a military campaign in the Moadamiyeh area southwest of Damascus where he is based, but added that the outcome of the clashes remained unclear as heavy fighting continued to rage.
Moadamiyeh had also reportedly been hit by chemical strike in the series of alleged pre-dawn regime chemical strikes, with the activist Local Coordination Committees saying over 76 civilians had died from exposure to poison gases in the area.
According to the LCC, “over 755 martyrs fell due to poison gas [strikes] in the Ain Tarma and Zamalka areas [of the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus] as well as in Moadamiyeh.”
The Syrian Support Group, a Washington-based organization that advocates for increased support for the Supreme Military Command of the FSA, told NOW that the women and children were sleeping when the attack occurred, and that most of the victims therefore suffocated to death.
SSG also reported that the concentrated sarin gas was delivered to the suburbs via four Grad missiles.
Saleheddine told NOW that the series of pre-dawn strikes in eastern Damascus occurred at 2:20 a.m. in the Jobar, Zamalka and Ain Tarma suburbs.