Syrian activists say gas attack near Damascus kills more than 650

AMMAN (REUTERS) - Syrian activists accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of launching a nerve gas attack on rebel-held districts near Damascus on Wednesday that they said killed more than 650 people.

“Over 650 confirmed dead result of deadly chemical weapon attack in Syria,” the National Coalition said on Twitter.

Activists said rockets with chemical agents hit the suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar in the Ghouta region.

Ms Bayan Baker, a nurse at Douma Emergency Collection facility, said: "Many of the casualties are women and children. They arrived with their pupil dilated, cold limbs and foam in their mouths."

"The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims," she said.

One photo purportedly taken by activists in Douma showed the bodies of at least 16 children and three adults, one wearing combat fatigues, laid at the floor of a room in a medical facility where the bodies were collected.

The incident took place during the visit to Damascus of a U.N. chemical weapons team investigating the possible use of chemical agents in Syria.

The United States and European countries say they believe Mr Assad's government has used poison gas including the nerve agent Sarin in the past, which Washington called a "red line" that justified international military aid to the rebels.

Mr Khaled Omar of the opposition local council in Ain Tarma said he saw at least 80 bodies at the Hajjah Hospital in Ain Tarma and at a makeshift clinic at Tatbiqiya School in the nearby district of Saqba.

"The attack took place at around 3:00am (8:00am Singapore time). Most of those killed were in their homes," Mr Omar said.

The Syrian authorities denied charges that the army used chemical arms, saying the reports were intended to hinder the mission of UN inspectors now in the country.