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Syrians 'suffocate' after suspected government chemical attack

Residents and medical sources say 'toxic gas' was used in attack in northwestern Saraqeb
Recent air strike on city of Maaret al-Numan in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province (AFP)

Five people were treated for "suffocation" on Sunday after Syrian government air strikes on the northwestern town of Saraqeb, a monitor said, adding that 10 civilians were killed in southern Idlib province.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a "foul smell after government helicopters struck several areas of the town in Idlib province, causing five civilians to suffer from suffocation".

It quoted residents and medical sources as saying "toxic gas" was used in the attack, without elaborating.

Syrian government air strikes also killed six civilians in the town of Kafr Nabi, near Maaret al-Numan in the southern countryside of Idlib province, the Observatory said.

Four other civilians were killed in government bombing on Maaret al-Numan and Maasarin.

The Observatory also said that “airplanes believed to be Russian hit the main hospital in Maaret al-Numan, causing damage”.

The facility shut down until repairs could be carried out, the war monitor said.

Russian jets intensified their raids on Sunday night, a day after rebels shot down a Russian warplane and killed its pilot.

The latest developments come as the United States recently accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons on opposition forces near the capital Damascus.

Accusations denied

On Monday, Washington condemned the alleged chemical attack in Saraqeb.

"We implore the international community to speak with one voice, taking every opportunity to publicly pressure the Assad regime, and its supporters, to cease its use of chemical weapons and hold those responsible accountable for these brutal attacks," US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The Syrian foreign ministry denied the accusations as "lies".

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis also told reporters on Friday his government was concerned sarin gas may have been recently used in Syria, citing reports from NGOs and rebel groups.

Mattis said the United States has no proof yet to support these accusations.

Last month, 21 people were treated for respiratory problems after rockets were fired on the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus.