Damascus: The regime in war-torn Syria came under intense pressure on Friday to allow UN inspectors to probe an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus which the opposition says killed hundreds.
Footage distributed by activists showing unconscious children, people foaming around the mouth and doctors apparently giving them oxygen to help them breathe has triggered revulsion around the world.
The United Nations formally asked Syria to authorise UN experts to probe the allegations, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decided to send a special envoy to Damascus.
French President Francois Hollande denounced the "likely" use of chemical weapons while a US official told the Wall Street Journal there were "strong indications" the regime used them.
But Damascus denied it unleashed chemical weapons, particularly at a time when a UN team was in Syria to inspect other such attacks.
It would be "political suicide" to go ahead with such an attack, said a senior security source.
The opposition National Coalition says more than 1,300 people were killed by poisonous gases in a rebel-held town southwest of the capital.
An activist told AFP he helped bury dozens of civilians overnight and that their bodies were "pale blue".
"They had died of suffocation," Abu Ahmad told AFP over the Internet from Moadamiyet al-Sham, a town which reportedly bore the brunt of the alleged chemical attacks.
A UN spokesman said, "The secretary general now calls for the mission, presently in Damascus, to be granted permission and access to swiftly investigate the incident which occurred on the morning of 21 August 2013.
"A formal request is being sent by the United Nations to the government of Syria in this regard. He expects to receive a positive response without delay."
Ban would also send to Damascus at an undisclosed time Angela Kane, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.
There has been no immediate independent confirmation of the attack but images activists posted online showed people foaming at the mouth and bodies laid out in long lines.
In one YouTube video, children are seen receiving first aid in a field hospital while doctors appear to be trying to resuscitate others.
Another video showed what activists said was a case of hysteria following a chemical strike in the eastern suburbs.
The authenticity of the videos could not be verified but AFP analysed one of the most striking pictures showing the bodies of children using specialised software.
The analysis showed the picture was not manipulated and was taken, as presented, on August 21.