By Ajay Nair, News Reporter
After a suspected chemical attack in which at least 70 Syrians were killed, we take a look back at allegations of previous chemical attacks made against the Assad regime.
:: 23 December 2012: First allegation of using chemical weapons
Seven people are killed in Homs, allegedly by a poisonous gas used by Syrian forces. Symptoms reportedly include blurred vision, nausea, relaxed muscles and breathing difficulties.
:: 19 March 2013: Dozens killed in alleged attack
A reported 25 people are killed and dozens injured after an alleged chemical weapons attacks in Khan al Assel in Aleppo and al Atebeh in Damascus. The Assad regime claimed opposition forces used chemical weapons in the fighting in those areas.
:: 24 March 2013: ‘Rocket launcher attack kills two’
Opposition activists claim Assad’s troops used chemical weapons from several rocket launchers in Adra which killed two people and injured more than 20. According to the Arms Control Association, doctors said the weapons used were phosphorus bombs, which affect the nervous system.
:: 21 August 2013: Hundreds killed in ‘gas attacks’
More than 1,400 people are allegedly killed in sarin gas attacks in eastern and western Ghouta following a Syrian offensive – 426 children are among the dead.
:: 21 April 2014: Chlorine attack
Three people are reported to have been killed and 133 injured in a suspected chlorine attack in the village of Talmenes, Idlib.
:: 16 March 2015: Further deaths despite UN condemnation
Six people are killed in a suspected chlorine attack in Sarmin, Idlib, days after the UN Security Council condemns any use of the chemical as a weapon. Activists claimed three children were among those killed when an aircraft dropped barrel bombs filled with the chemical. The Syrian military denied the claims.
:: 2 August 2016: Suffocation reported
Two dozen cases of suffocation are reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in rebel-held Saraqeb, near Aleppo.
:: 10 August 2016: Claims of further chlorine gas use
Hospital officials in Syria report the use of chlorine gas in another chemical weapons attack in Aleppo.
:: 3 March 2017: Probe launched into toxic gas attacks
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says it is looking into allegations of eight toxic gas attacks in Syria since the start of the year. Syria continues to deny any responsibility.
:: 30 March 2017: ‘Sarin gas’ attack
Fifty people are injured in an attack in the south of Ltamenah. The OPCW suspects sarin gas was used in the attack.
:: 4 April 2017: Rebel-held town targeted
At least 74 people are killed and 300 injured in a suspected sarin gas attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib. The OPCW later confirms the use of sarin gas.
:: 13 January 2018: Attack on Douma
Six people, including women and children, are injured following an alleged chlorine gas attack in Douma, eastern Ghouta.
:: 22 January 2018: Douma targeted again
Another alleged chlorine gas attack in Douma, which injures another 21 people, including women and children.
:: 1 February 2018: Fatalities in further attack
A third alleged chlorine gas attack in Douma claims the lives of three people.
:: 26 February 2018: Child dies in Douma
A child dies and a further 13 people suffer breathing difficulties after another suspected chemical attack in Douma.
:: 7 March 2018: 29 injured in eastern Ghouta
Saqba, in eastern Ghouta, sees a suspected chlorine attack, which injures 29 people, mostly children, according to reports.
:: 7 April 2018: Dozens killed and hundreds injured
At least 70 people are killed and at least 500 injured in a suspected chemical attack in Douma.
COVID-19: US president Joe Biden signs 10 executive orders to curb spread of coronavirus | US News
Joe Biden has signed 10 new executive orders in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus across the United States.
On his first full day in office, the newly-inaugurated president launched new measures on vaccines, masks and testing.
He hit out at Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying his predecessor lacked the “urgency, focus and co-ordination we needed”.
“We have seen the tragic cost of that failure,” Mr Biden said.
He warned that “things are going to continue to get worse before they get better”, predicted the death toll will reach 500,000 next month and said the roll-out of vaccines in the US had been a “dismal failure” so far.
The US has seen the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths of any country in the world.
Mr Trump, who left the White House for Florida on Wednesday, was much-criticised for his handling of the pandemic.
He caught the disease in October, after hosting a reception where guests were seen not social distancing or wearing masks.
And when a US journalist said Mr Trump told him he knew how dangerous the virus was but liked “playing it down”, former first lady Michelle Obama accused him of trying to “gaslight the American people by acting like this pandemic is not a real threat”.
COVID-19: Coffins stacked high in crematorium of German town ravaged by coronavirus | World News
A crematorium is a sobering place to visit during a pandemic. Especially the one in the town of Meissen, eastern Germany, where coffins are stacked on top of each other in every available space.
Attached to each simple wooden casket is a small piece of paper giving the basic details about the body inside. The name of the deceased, date of birth and death.
And chalked on to the side of so many is the word COVID. We are standing amongst the victims of a virus which has hit Meissen hard.
In the basement, vast furnaces and workers are operating around the clock. They need to, such is the demand for cremations in a town which has experienced one of the highest COVID-19 rates in Germany.
We watch coffin after coffin disappearing into the flames knowing that family members, unable to be with their loved ones as they passed away, will be desperate to collect the urn of ashes to mourn.
Crematorium director Jörg Schaldach speaks of sadness for the families.
“For us, the problem isn’t storage. The problem is actually for the bereaved,” he says.
“The ambulance leaves the yard and they never see their relatives again. There are no hospital visits. People understand that this is a crisis and they accept that. But the psychological aspect of parting is very, very difficult.”
It is made all the more difficult by the fact that COVID restrictions mean normal funeral services aren’t possible.
Even the chapel at the crematorium is now a storage facility for the dead. The chairs, which before COVID would have accommodated mourners, have been moved out to make way for coffins.
At this, Meissen’s sole crematorium, they dealt with more than 1,400 bodies last month, double the number a year ago.
And Mr Schaldach worries that figure could be higher by the end of January.
The high COVID infection and death rate in Meissen has created nervousness amongst many residents, who ask why the town has been so hard hit.
One elderly man said: “It’s because the old live here in eastern Germany. The young are in the west. And COVID affects the old much more badly.”
Another says: “We are near to the Czech border. There is high incidence there and traffic.” He struggles to speak as he says it is so sad, so upsetting to see what is happening.
There is genuine fear and worry here. The crematorium sits in the middle of a residential area and it must be unnerving for people seeing the constant stream of hearses and vans arriving.
Mr Schaldach is hoping that tough lockdown restrictions the German government has decided to keep in place will make a difference.
He lives in the community where he works and feels the loss shared by so many here.
COVID rates are now falling in Germany, but he agrees with the government that there is no room for complacency.
Baghdad: At least 28 killed and dozens injured in twin suicide attack on Iraq’s capital | World News
At least 28 people have died and dozens more are wounded after a double suicide attack in Iraq’s capital.
According to police in Baghdad, the explosions hit a commercial area in the centre of the city.
Many of the wounded – of which there are at least 73 – are reported to be in a serious condition and there was widespread damage to buildings.
The bombings are the first in years to target Baghdad’s bustling commercial area and all of the city’s hospitals were mobilised to treat the injured, the health ministry said.
They come amid heightened political tensions as Iraq looks to have early elections in October, while also battling a severe economic crisis brought about by low oil prices.
It is not clear who is responsible for the blasts, which left blood smeared across the floors of the busy Bab al-Sharqi market and piles of clothes and shoes.
The attack occurred as security forces pursued two suicide bombers who detonated their explosives in the market near Tayaran Square, according to military spokesman Yahya Rasool.
Iraq has seen attacks by both the Islamic State group and militia groups in recent months.
Militias have routinely targeted the American presence with rocket and mortar attacks, especially the US Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone.
Attacks has decreased since an informal truce was declared by Iran-backed armed groups in October.
The Islamic State group has carried out similar attacks in the past but has rarely been able to target the capital since being dislodged by Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition in 2017.
The last deadly suicide blast in the Iraqi capital took place in January 2018, killing at least 27 people.
An attack like this is rare these days making it all the more concerning
Analysis: Mark Stone, Middle East correspondent
Violence and Iraq may seem to be tragically synonymous, but in fact an attack like this is rare these days making it all the more concerning.
While the country is still deeply divided and troubled, bloodshed of this magnitude has not been seen since January 2018 when 27 people were killed in an attack.
The images, most of which are too horrific to broadcast, show bodies lying all around Tayaran Square.
Victims, some alive, but others clearly not, are seen being lifted into vehicles. One video clip shows the decapitated head of man.
It was mid-morning when the bombs detonated. It was a cruelly intentional “double-tap” attack – the second bomb detonated amid the crowd as casualties were carried away.
No one has yet claimed responsibility. The Islamic State terror group is still a threat in parts of the country despite a continued effort by Iraq’s security forces, with western coalition support, to defeat the group.
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