The Syrian regime has used so-called elephant rockets in an attack on the Damascus suburb of Douma, killing at least 27 people, according to activists.
The rockets, named after the distinctive noise they make when they are launched, are improvised weapons made by attaching rocket motors to much larger bombs.
This greatly increases their destructive effect, while accuracy is lost and range limited.
In video posted online of Tuesday’s attack, residents were seen scrambling to rescue a brother and sister trapped after a building was destroyed.
There were shouts of joy as the girl was pulled alive from the rubble while her brother could still be heard calling for help.
More than 60 people, including many children, were injured in the bombardment, activists said.
The rebel stronghold of Douma has been under attack by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad for the last three years.
Elephant rockets are part of an improvised arsenal used by government forces, who have already been condemned for using barrel bombs and chemical weapons on civilians.
Speaking in the US on Tuesday, John Kerry, secretary of state, said he was confident Assad’s government was responsible for a “preponderance” of chemical attacks against his own people.
|Men search for survivors at a site hit by what activists said was heavy shelling by the Syrian government on Douma [Reuters]
Kerry said he had discussed Syria’s use of chemical weapons with Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, by phone and was confident Lavrov would raise it with Assad, who agreed in 2013 under a US-Russia brokered deal to dismantle the country’s chemical weapons arsenal.
He said chemical weapons were dropped from aircraft and the US was putting together data to support its claims that Assad’s government was responsible for the attacks.
The UN Security Council is currently debating a draft resolution that will help determine who is responsible for using chlorine as a chemical weapon. Russia questions whether a resolution, being drafted by the US, is needed.
|Rescuers managed to pull several people alive from the rubble in Douma [Reuters]
Although chlorine is not a prohibited substance, its use as a chemical weapon is prohibited under a 1977 Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013.
Members of the Syrian Medical Society are expected to give evidence to the US foreign affairs committee on Wednesday that shows Assad is using chlorine on civilians.
The latest developments come as the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura is in Damascus pushing for a political solution to end the conflict.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with a network of sources on the ground, says it has documented 230,000 deaths in Syria’s war, almost 70,000 of them civilians.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies