Chemical Weapons Attack Kills Dozens in Syria’s Idlib Province

One of the least graphic images showing the aftermath of the latest chemical weapons attack in Syria posted online by activiists. Photo: Anas Altaan, Twitter

  • Dozens of people, including children, have died as a result of a sarin attack by Syrian government or Russian aircraft, reports claim.
  • The attack has occurred in Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province.
  • Aftermath of the attack has been shown in photos and videos posted online by humanitarian and medical activists working in Northern Syria.

Dozens of civilians, including children have been killed by Syrian government or Russian airstrikes which likely used chemical weapons in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib Province in Northwest Syria, according to activists, medical workers, and a monitoring group.

If their reports about a new sarin attack are proven, that the sixth case of usage of banned chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War.

Under joint pressure by the USA and Russia, in 2013 the Assad regime agreed to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile and sign the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The international pressure was in reaction to the Syrian government’s use of sarin gas on a Damascus suburb in August 2013.

In spite of joining the CWC, however, the Syrian regime continued to use chemical weapons. A UN panel, the Joint Investigative Mechanism, discovered that Assad had resorted to chemical weapons at least three times since then.

Even though the Mechanism was established with Russia’s participation, Moscow disagreed with its conclusions.

Under President Vladimir Putin, in October 2015, Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War, which started as “Arab Spring” civil unrest, essentially rescuing the Assad regime from collapsing, and helping it crack down on the moderate opposition rebels, while avoiding focusing its air and missile strikes explicitly on the ISIS terror group (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).

In February 2017, international NGO Human Rights Watch reported that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had carried out chemical attacks with chlorine against the rebel forces in Aleppo, which the regime conquered back in December 2016 with Russian help, after the major Syrian city had been in opposition control since 2012.

The aftermath of the latest chemical weapons attack in Syria. Photo: Anas Altaan, Twitter

New Chemical Weapons Attack

Photos and videos of the aftermath of the airstrikes posted on Twitter a volunteer organization called the White Helmets showed young children who had purportedly been killed with chemical weapons, CBS News reported.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that chemical weapons had been used in Khan Sheikhoun, either by jets of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or by its ally Russia, the BBC reported.

Horrific video and photos posted online by the Syrian Civil Defense, the volunteer first-responders organization commonly known as the White Helmets, showed young children who had purportedly died in the attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

“At least 37 civilians killed, 200 injured in Assad poisonous gas attack on Idlib’s Khan Sheikhoun,” tweeted Anas Altaan, a member of the White Helmets team in Syria’s Idlib province.

The images he posted showed children, at least eight in one video, seemingly deceased without any apparent external injuries.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based activist group that relies on a network of contacts inside Syria, said at least 18 people were killed.

The Observatory cited medical sources in Khan Sheikhoun as reporting that the symptoms among those affected by Tuesday morning’s attack included fainting, vomiting and foaming at the mouth.

The victims were mostly civilians, and included at least nine children, it said.

The pro-opposition Edlib Media Centre (EMC) posted a large number of photographs of people receiving treatment, as well as images showing what appeared to be the bodies of at least seven children in the back of a pickup truck.

A doctor working in Idlib province, identifying himself on Twitter as a British-trained physician currently volunteering as a “humanitarian aid worker in northern Syria,” posed a video in which he demonstrates how survivors of the alleged Khan Sheikhoun attack have “pin-point pupils that do not respond to light.”

He claims it is evidence that the strikes used the banned chemical weapon sarin.

“Do you still doubt that sarin is being used on us? Non-reactive pinpoint pupils! We have samples. Will anyone care!? Who will stop it?” Dr. Shajul Islam wrote on Twitter.

A Syrian child receives treatment after an alleged chemical attack at a field hospital in Saraqib, Idlib province, northern Syria, 04 April 2017. Photo: EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Rising Death Toll

Mohammed Rasoul, who is in charge of a charity ambulance service in Idlib, told BBC Arabic that he received news of the air strikes at about 06:45 local time (03:45 GMT) on Tuesday.

When three of his ambulances arrived at the scene about 20 minutes later, medics found people choking in the street, he said.

“Our team is still there, moving patients from one place to another because of overcrowded hospitals.”

“I am speaking to my team and they are doing fine, but the situation over there is very bad and most of those who are suffering are children,” he added.

Rasoul reported that 67 people had died and that 300 were injured, while the pro-opposition Step news agency put the death toll at 100.

Idlib province is largely controlled by an alliance of rebel factions and the al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

The BBC notes that the region is regularly targeted in air strikes by the government and its ally Russia, as well as the US-led multinational coalition against ISIS.

Russia and China have vetoed on several occasions draft resolutions of the UN Security Council which would have punished the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the use of banned chemical weapons in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

Both the Assad regime and Russia have rejected reports of chemical weapons usage by government forces in the Syrian Civil War as “laughable” or “Western propaganda”.

The Syrian Civil War began in March 2011 as protest demonstrations against the Assad regime. Since then it has seen massive international involvement and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and has resulted in nearly 500,000 casualties, over 4 million refugees, and over 7 internally displaced people.

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