Russia Claims Syria Chemical Attack Was 'Staged' by White Helmets

Russia's ambassador to the European Union claimed the latest deadly chemical attack in Syria was a "staged event" by provocateurs working with the White Helmets, an aid NGO rescuing civilians in the wartorn country.

A spokesperson for The White Helmets, formally called Syria Civil Defence, told Newsweek the group categorically rejects the claims.

Vladimir Chizhov told Euronews that Russia, which is militarily backing the Assad regime in Syria, is "shocked by yet another provocation with the so-called chemical attack in Douma."

He claimed Russian investigators found no bodies or anyone needing treatment in Eastern Ghouta, just northeast of the capital Damascus, despite multiple reports, images and video from the area detailing the horrific aftermath of the chemical attack on Saturday April 7.

"We've seen another staged event," Chizhov claimed. "There are personnel, specifically trained—and you can guess by whom—amongst the so-called White Helmets, who were already caught in the act with staged videos."

children white helmets douma
Children are treated after a chemical attack in Douma, Syria, on April 7. White Helmets/Twitter

The ambassador also warned President Donald Trump of "grave consequences" if any military response by the U.S. harms Russian citizens "deliberately or otherwise."

Volunteers from the group were among the first on the scene after Saturday's shelling of Douma, relaying images of the bodies of victims, including many children, who appear to have suffocated on their own vomit.

A statement from the White Helmets on Sunday reported that over 500 cases of people attending medical centers with "symptoms of exposure to chemicals."

"Cases have shown signs of respiratory distress, central cyanosis, excessive oral foaming, corneal burns, and the emission of chlorine-like odor," the statement said.

The group also said it had at found least 42 dead people showing similar symptoms in their homes or shelters.

"Following the chemical attack, the target site and the surrounding area of the hospital receiving the injured were attacked with barrel bombs, which hindered the ability of ambulances to reach the victims," the White Helmets said.

Important: video from 9 April, 7:02pm showing presence of chemical gas canister in Douma. Same location as video of casualties. Also same location that Russia visited reporting ‘no sign of chemical weapons’.

— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) April 10, 2018

The World Health Organization said it had received reports of approximately 500 patients at Syrian health facilities displaying signs of exposure to toxic chemicals. In addition, over 70 people sheltering in basements had died, 43 of those showing "symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals."

President Donald Trump condemned the "heinous attack on innocent Syrians with banned chemical weapons" as other Western countries, including the U.K. and France, pledged to contribute to a response against those found responsible.

Trump appeared to attribute the blame to the Assad regime, which denies carrying out the latest attack, but was found by the UN to have been behind a similar chemical attack in 2017 on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

"Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria," Trump tweeted.

"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!"

Cases of suffocation between the civilians in residential neighborhood in the city #Douma after it was targeted by poison gas “Chlorine”. @SyriaCivilDefe teams are working to inspect the place and transfer the injured to medical centers.

— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) April 7, 2018

Trump and his military advisors are assessing the intelligence and working on how to respond.

After the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, which killed dozens of civilians, Trump authorized a missile strike on the Syrian army air base from which it was launched.

"Russia has warned US representatives, publicly as well as through proper channels, over the grave consequences that could arise if these strikes happen and whether deliberately or otherwise Russian citizens are hurt," Chizhov told Euronews.