Christian Aid says it's "very concerned" about reports that a chemical attack has killed hundreds of people including women and children in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. Images, including some taken by freelance photographers, show scores of bodies, including small children, laid out on the floor of a clinic with no visible signs of injuries. The Syrian government and military said the claims are "absolutely baseless" and "completely untrue". Foreign Secretary William Hague is calling on United Nations chemical weapons experts, who are in the country, to be allowed to investigate the area near the capital.
Commenting on the claims Mr Hague said:
"I am deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of people, including children, have been killed in airstrikes and a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas near Damascus.
"These reports are uncorroborated and we are urgently seeking more information. But it is clear that if they are verified, it would mark a shocking escalation in the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
"Those who order the use of chemical weapons, and those who use them, should be in no doubt that we will work in every way we can to hold them to account.
"I call on the Syrian Government to allow immediate access to the area for the UN team currently investigating previous allegations of chemical weapons use. The UK will be raising this incident at the UN Security Council."
In a separate development, 30,000 more Syrian refugees fled their war-torn homeland in the past week to settle in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says this is one of the biggest single waves of refugees it has had to deal with since the uprising against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Christian Aid is offering support to an Iraqi organisation to provide essential items to the displaced families.
Phoebe Rison from the charity told Premier's Des Busteed on the News Hour the refugee camps are already over crowded:
Some 150,000 Syrians have already entered Iraq, though that's less than most countries, such as Turkey, where many of Syria's 1.9 million refugees are living.
Latest reports suggest the government of Iraqi Kurdistan has now put in place an entry quota of 3,000 refugees a day to cope with an influx of Kurds fleeing the civil war in Syria. Since unrest began in Syria in March 2011, more than 100,000 have been killed according to the UN.