An alleged chemical weapons attack in the rebel-controlled Syrian town of Douma has claimed the lives of at least 70 people, prompting the United States to issue a slew of new threats leveled at Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his primary military ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Seventy people suffocated to death and hundreds are still suffocating,” said Raed al-Saleh, a leader in a group called “White Helmets” that conduct rescue operations following incidents such as these. It’s important to note that the White Helmets have been accused of maintaining working relationship with a rebel groups that include West-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces as well as Al Qaeda affiliated groups like Al-Nusra.

Douma, located in Eastern Ghouta near the Syrian Capital of Damascus is a rebel controlled city that is said to be surrounded by Assad’s forces, preventing international responders or journalists from gaining access to the site of the attack to formally confirm reports of banned chemical weapons once again being used on Syrian civilians. A similar incident that took place soon after President Trump took office prompted him to respond with an onslaught of ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles that rendered the airfield that launched the attack temporarily useless.

According to unconfirmed reports, the chemical attack started as Syrian military helicopters dropped barrel bombs throughout the town on Saturday night, suffocating some and sending others into seizures and violent convulsion. Photographs and videos posted to social media from within the affected area show many people, including women and children, dead or injured, often with foam coming from their mouths.

Following reports of the incident, the United States wasted little time condemning both Syrian and Russian officials for the attack.

The Assad regime and its backers must be held accountable and any further attacks prevented immediately. Russia, with its unwavering support for the regime, ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks, targeting of countless civilians, and the suffocation of Syria’s most vulnerable communities with chemical weapons.” State Department spokesperson Heather Nuaert wrote in an official statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo)

By shielding its ally Syria, Russia has breached its commitments to the United Nations as a framework guarantor. It has betrayed the Chemical Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 2118. Russia’s protection of the Assad regime and failure to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria calls into question its commitment to resolving the overall crisis and to larger non-proliferation priorities.”

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Russia has repeatedly claimed that Syrian forces do no have chemical weapons, nor have they deployed them throughout the civil war that’s has been raging in Syria since 2011. The United Nations, however, has repeatedly cited evidence to suggest otherwise, despite Russia’s refusal to accept said evidence. Russia has also claimed that the United States has faked chemical weapon attacks to justify their continued presence in the region – a conspiracy theory the Russian Ministry of Defense touched upon in their formal response.

“The spread of bogus stories about the use of chlorine and other poisonous substances by government forces continues,” the ministry said. “The aim of such deceitful speculation, lacking any kind of grounding, is to shield terrorists,” adding, “and to attempt to justify possible external uses of force.”

President Trump, who had reportedly been considering a withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Syria, took to Twitter to address the issue, notably citing Vladimir Putin by name.

“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” President Trump wrote on Twitter. “Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad.”

“Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”

Image courtesy of the Associated Press