World horrified after suspected gas attack leaves dozens dead in Syria

By Deborah Killalea

A Syrian doctor treats a child at a makeshift hospital following the suspected attack. Photo / AP
A Syrian doctor treats a child at a makeshift hospital following the suspected attack. Photo / AP

These images should shock and horrify the world.

A suspected chemical attack has left at least 58 people dead, including several children, and survivors convulsing in the streets.

Fingers have already been pointed at the Syrian Government after the attack in the northwestern province of Idlib left up to 500 people injured.

Activists on the ground have released horrifying footage of adults and children writhing in pain and frothing at the mouth.

Desperate parents are seen making their way to get help following the suspected attack.
In other horrifying scenes, which are too confronting to publish, piles of bodies can be seen lying on the ground, while a group of children lay dead with white foam surrounding their nostrils.

Those receiving medical attention are seen struggling to breathe through oxygen masks while others appear unresponsive.

A US government source told Reuters it believed the chemical agent sarin was used in the attack that was "almost certainly" carried out by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

TRUMP BLAMES OBAMA
US President Donald Trump has appeared to blame his predecessor for the reprehensible attack, claiming Barack Obama's "weakness" made it possible.

"These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution," Mr Trump said. "President Obama said in 2012 he would establish a 'red line' against the use of chemical weapons, and then did nothing."

Mr Trump also said the attack against innocent people mustn't be "ignored by the civilised world".

The President's message was a clear reference to Mr Obama's failure to strike in 2013 after saying a chemical attack by Assad would cross a "red line".

Mr Obama gave the Assad government an ultimatum that the use of chemical weapons in any circumstance would result in "consequences". But those consequences never came.

Mr Trump himself hasn't exactly been proactive in Syria. Just days ago, we learned the President had ordered a major shift in US policy there, moving the focus onto defeating Islamic State rather than overthrowing Assad.

"You pick and choose your battles when we're looking at this. It's about changing up priorities, and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out," America's United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said. "We can't necessarily focus on Assad the way the previous administration did."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson struck a similar note, saying Assad's future "will be decided by the Syrian people", not the West.

The administration's change of tack was panned by foreign policy hawks in the US Congress.

"To suggest that Assad is an acceptable leader for the Syrian people is to ignore the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people by the Assad regime. Leaving him in power is also a great reward for Russia and Iran," Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said in response to the news. "Assad is not and cannot be the future of his country."

Furthermore, while Mr Trump is now criticising Barack Obama's inaction in Syria, he actually told the former president to "forget Syria" at the time.




It isn't all about the United States. Today Mr Tillerson said Russia and Iran, Assad's most powerful allies, bore some responsibility for the chemical attack and called on both countries to use their influence over Syria's dictator to prevent similar crimes in the future. While noting Russia's and Iran's roles in helping broker a ceasefire through diplomatic talks that have occurred in the Kazakh capital of Astana, he said they must do more.

"As the self-proclaimed guarantors to the ceasefire negotiated in Astana, Russia and Iran also bear great moral responsibility for these deaths," Mr Tillerson said.

Russia's role in Syria was a matter of extreme contention between Moscow and Washington under the Obama administration. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry called for both Syria and Russia to be investigated for war crimes in connection with attacks on civilians.

The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for today in response to the strike, which came on the eve of a major international donors' conference in Brussels on the future of Syria and the region.

THE ATTACKS: WHAT HAPPENED?
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported air strikes took place on Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in northwestern Syria, and were carried out by Syrian government or Russian jets.

Warplanes launched air strikes on the city, about 50km south of the city of Idlib while many people were sleeping.

Witnesses on the ground said the attacks were carried out by Sukhoi jets operated by the Russian and Syrian governments.

Anas al-Diab, an activist with the Aleppo Media Center, said air strikes gave off a "poisonous gas"

However both Syria's military and Russia's defence ministry have denied responsibility.

The Syrian government "categorically rejected" claims that it was responsible, saying it does not possess chemical weapons, has not used them in the past and will not use them in the future. It said rebels were to blame.

However French President Francois Hollande directly blamed Syrian government forces and said Assad's allies were emboldening him to act with impunity.

As confusion remained surrounding the exact death toll, the Aleppo Media Center claimed 70 had died while the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 58.

Other groups including, the High Negotiations Committee and the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) claimed up to 100 had been killed.

If confirmed to be a chemical weapons attack, this would be the deadliest to take place in Syria since sarin gas killed hundreds of civilians in Ghouta near Damascus in August 2013.

Western states said the Syrian government was responsible for that attack, however Damascus blamed it on rebels.

Idlib province contains the largest populated area controlled by anti-Assad rebels - both nationalist Free Syrian Army groups and powerful Islamist factions including the former al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

HORRIFYING SCENES
One unnamed doctor in a hospital close to Khan Sheikhoun told CNN tests were needed to confirm the chemical used but people displayed symptoms which appeared to match the use of sarin.

"Today around 7:30am, about 125 injuries arrived to our hospital. Twenty five of them were already dead, 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the wounded people were kids and women.

"The symptoms were pale skin, sweating, narrow or pin-eye pupils, very intense respiratory detachments."

 Syrian doctor treats a child at a makeshift hospital following the suspected attack. Photo / AP
Syrian doctor treats a child at a makeshift hospital following the suspected attack. Photo / AP

Another doctor, Fares al-Jundi, told the broadcaster there were 500 injured and they covered the floors of the entire hospital.

Dr al-Jundi said many died quickly and from asphyxiation and foam covered their mouths.

Footage also showed volunteer medics using fire hoses to wash the chemicals from victims' bodies.

Activist-run Assi Press published video of paramedics carrying victims, stripped down to their underwear and many appearing unresponsive, from the scene in cars and trucks.

Amnesty International Australia's Responsive Campaigner Diana Sayed condemned the horrific attacks and said it was time for the world to act.

"The use of chemical weapons is strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law and constitutes a war crime," she said.

"Amnesty International is deeply concerned about this attack and is monitoring the situation closely.

"The attacks come as European countries gather at the Brussels conference on Syria to discuss reconstruction and aid for the country. This horrific attack must serve as a bleak and unfortunate reminder that justice for Syria must be at the centre of any discussion."

'HORRIFIED, SICKENED'
The UOSSM said at least 25 of the victims killed were children while three medical staff were injured and rushed to the ICU while treating patients.

In a statement it said medical teams were overwhelmed with patients and "unequipped to handle chemical attacks of this magnitude".

Dr Anas al-Kassem said the attacks were inexcusable and the international community was to blame for its years of inaction.

According to UOSSM, there have been more 170 reported chemical attacks in Syria since the UN Security Council passed resolution 2118 in September 2013, outlawing chemical weapons in Syria.

"A massive investment must be made to prepare all medical facilities for these attacks and equip civilians with protective equipment," Dr al-Kassem said.

"I am horrified and sickened that these attacks keep happening every week."

Syrian NGO Baytna Syria said as world leaders meet in Brussels to discuss the future of Syria, Europe and the world could no longer sit back.

"It is unacceptable that six years into Syria's crisis, civilians continue to be slaughtered with impunity," he said.

"Today's chemical attacks in Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province - which has left over 58 Syrians dead, including innocent children - are yet another reminder of why Europe needs to act and save Syrian lives".

- news.com.au

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