Children in the Syrian province of Aleppo earlier this week suffered napalm-like burns after an incendiary agent was dropped on their school by what rebels say was a government jet. At least 10 people were killed, and dozens more were injured.
A humanitarian doctor who treated the children after the Monday incident described the scene as "apocalyptic."
"As they all started to arrive, it felt like I was living a horror film," said the volunteer doctor, who asked only to be identified by her first name, Roula. "As they were coming in, because of their burns, they were radiating so much heat. The hospital got so, so hot."
Roula said her first thought after seeing the "petrified" children covered in unidentified white matter was that there had been another chemical attack — something she and others have feared ever since an Aug. 21 massacre in Damascus was determined by the U.S. and other nations to have involved chemical weapons.
"We didn't actually have much information at the beginning. All we knew was that these severely burnt children were all coming in in droves," she said. Those who survived have burns on 50 percent to 80 percent of their bodies.
It's still unclear what agent was used in Monday's attack, although Syrian rebels say the regime dropped a chemical agent of some sort. A BBC team filming inside Syria for Panorama captured disturbing video images of the aftermath of the incident showing shaking children pleading for help as their skin burned.
A girl who witnessed the attack told NBC News' Richard Engel that the plane attacked the school twice.
"As we were going inside the classroom, it hit again. I didn't hear anything. We just saw people burning," said the student, who was not identified. "My classmates were burning. It felt like Judgment Day."
The patients were not limited to schoolchildren, according to Roula, speaking to NBC News from London days after the attack. The first case she received was a 7-month-old brought in by his father. The infant was covered in full-body burns, and his dad had head burns.
"He described that a missile had hit his home," Roula said. "At that point, I thought it was an isolated case, and literally two minutes later, we received five more cases, and within 10 minutes, we had 15, and then a few minutes later, we had 30."
The attack happened late in the afternoon, she said, when the children were finishing up their school day.
One victim in particular — a 16-year-old girl — stood out.
"She took a deep breath and asked me, 'Do you think my face is going to be mutilated?' I said, 'I don't know. I hope not.' She said:'All I was trying to do was study for my exams. I was just trying to do my baccalaureate because I want to be like you. I want to be a doctor.'"
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First published August 30 2013, 3:51 PM