Syrian activists accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of launching a nerve gas attack that killed at least 213 people on Wednesday, in what would, if confirmed, be by far the worst reported use of poison gas in the two-year-old civil war.

Image: REUTERS-Maher al-Zaybaq-Shaam News Network-Handout via Reuters

Reuters was not able to verify the accounts independently and they were denied by Syrian state television, which said they were disseminated deliberately to distract a team of United Nations chemical weapons experts which arrived three days ago.

The U.N. team is in Syria investigating allegations that both rebels and army forces used poison gas in the past, one of the main disputes in international diplomacy over Syria.

Activists said rockets with chemical agents hit the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar before dawn.

A nurse at Douma Emergency Collection facility, Bayan Baker, said the death toll, as collated from medical centers in the suburbs east of Damascus, was 213.

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