Syrian opposition reports hundreds killed in chemical weapons attack

August 21, 2013

Possible chemical attack kills hundreds in Syria, Japan’s nuclear crisis escalates to worst in years, and Egyptian court orders Mubarak’s release from jail. Today is Wednesday, August 21, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

A man sits in a hospital near two children who activists say were affected by nerve gas in the Ghouta region, in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus, August 21, 2013.  REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

Chemical massacre? Syrian opposition activists accused President Bashar al-Assad’s government of killing up to 1,300 people in an early-morning bombardment of rockets and chemical agents. If confirmed, the attack would constitute the worst use of chemical weapons in Syria’s conflict so far:

(Bayan Baker, a nurse at Douma Emergency Collection said,) “Many of the casualties are women and children. They arrived with their pupils dilated, cold limbs and foam in their mouths. The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims”… The U.N. team is in Syria investigating allegations that both rebels and army forces used chemical weapons in the past, one of the main disputes in international diplomacy over Syria.

Images, including some taken by Reuters photographers, reveal apparently uninjured bodies on the floor of a medical clinic. Amateur videos posted to social media sites show rooms filled with corpses and doctors treating people in makeshift clinics. The Syrian government denied the allegations, while the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition called the attack a “massacre.” The reported attack took place just a few miles from the hotel where U.N. chemical experts are staying during their investigation into Syria’s alleged past use of chemical agents. France, Turkey, the UK, the Arab League, and others have called on the U.N. to investigate the attack immediately, but Syria’s ambassador to Russia said the accusations against Assad were “fabricated.” Reports suggest Assad may have used small amounts of sarin gas against rebels earlier this year, crossing Obama’s “red line.”

An aerial view shows workers wearing protective suits and masks working atop contaminated water storage tanks at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima, in this photo taken by Kyodo on August 20, 2013. REUTERS/Kyodo

Radioactive rupture.  Japan’s nuclear crisis has reached its highest level since an earthquake and tsunami caused reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant, as water with dangerous levels of radiation leaks from a storage tank:

The NRA (Nuclear Regulation Authority) said it was worried about leakage from other similar tanks that were built hastily to store water washed over melted reactors at the station to keep them cool. Water in the latest leak is so contaminated that a person standing close to it for an hour would receive five times the annual recommended limit for nuclear workers. A spokesman for the NRA said the agency plans to upgrade the severity of the crisis from a Level 1 “anomaly” to a Level 3 “serious incident” on an international scale for radiological releases.

Tepco denied the plant was leaking radioactive water for several months before coming clean in July. The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency said on Wednesday that the latest development is serious, and that it is ready to help if needed. China’s foreign ministry expressed shock over the leak.

Egypt’s ousted President Hosni Mubarak sits inside a dock at the police academy on the outskirts of Cairo, April 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Free to go. An Egyptian court ordered the release of deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. According to his attorney, Mubarak could be a free man as soon as tomorrow:

Mubarak, 85, was sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators. But a court accepted his appeal earlier this year and ordered a retrial.… Mubarak is still being retried on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters during the revolt against him, but he has already served the maximum pre-trial detention in that case.

The prosecution has said it won’t appeal the order. Although Mubarak is not expected to return to politics, commentators on Twitter quipped that without a conviction and following the ouster of President Mursi, Mubarak could run for president of Egypt.

Nota Bene: U.S. WikiLeaks soldier Manning receives 35-year sentence.


Al Qaeda high – The U.S. sanctions an Islamic school in Pakistan for allegedly training militants. (The Associated Press)

Cheers – Australian scientists are working on developing a hangover-proof beer. (The Atlantic Cities)

Hold the ketchup – Brazilian health officials find traces of rodent fur in a batch of Mexican-made Heinz Ketchup. (BBC)

“Performing for the chairs” – American singer Brandy sulks off stage after performing to a near-empty stadium in South Africa. (The Guardian)

Friendlier French – Paris’ tourism board encourages the French to mind their manners. (The New York Times)

From the File:

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