Syrian chemical attack which claims 58 lives described as a ’war crime’

LATEST: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has denounced a chemical weapons attack in Syria - which it is reported has claimed the lives of 58 people - as a "war crime" and called for those responsible to be brought to justice.

What we know so far:

  • 58 people are reported to have died in a suspected gas attack in northern Syria
  • 11 children are thought to be included in the death toll;
  • Opposition monitoring groups claim the attack was carried out by Syrian government of Russian warplanes;
  • Idlib is home to some 900,000 displaced Syrians.

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Update 5pm: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has denounced a chemical weapons attack in Syria - which it is reported has claimed the lives of 58 people - as a "war crime" and called for those responsible to be brought to justice.

It would be "unbelievable" to think that president Bashar Assad could play a role in the post-war government of the country if his regime is found to be to blame, Mr Johnson said.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has put the death toll at 58, including 11 children.

It was the third claim of a chemical attack in just over a week in Syria. There was no immediate comment from the government in Damascus on the alleged incident, which comes a day before a conference on the future of Syria co-hosted by Britain in Brussels.

Speaking in London, Mr Johnson - who will represent the UK at tomorrow’s summit - said: "If this were proved to have been committed by the Assad regime, it would be another reason to think they are an absolutely heinous outfit.

"Bombing your own civilians with chemical weapons is unquestionably a war crime and they must be held to account.

"It is unbelievable to think that in the long term, Bashar Assad can play a part in the future of Syria, given what he has done to his people."

France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the "atrocious act".

And EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described the reported attack as "awful", adding that Mr Assad’s government "has the primary responsibility of protecting its people and not attacking its people".

The Syrian activists had no information on what agent could have been used in the assault on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which they blamed on an air strike carried out either by the Syrian government or Russian warplanes.

Idlib province is largely opposition-controlled and is home to around 900,000 Syrians displaced from their homes elsewhere in the country.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said: "This was a shocking and barbaric attack, and our thoughts are with all the victims and their loved ones.

"The use of chemical weapons by anyone cannot be tolerated, as the Syrian government itself accepted when it joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, and there must be no impunity for those found responsible."

Update 2.40pm: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group put the death toll at 58, including 11 children.

A Turkey-based Syrian woman whose niece, husband and one-year-old daughter were among those killed said the warplanes struck early, as residents were still in their beds.

Makeshift hospitals soon crowded with people suffocating.

Photos and video emerging from Khan Sheikhoun showed limp bodies of children and adults. Some are seen struggling to breathe while others appeared to be foaming at the mouth.

A doctor said his hospital in Idlib province received three victims, all with narrow, pinpoint pupils that did not respond to light.

Pinpoint pupils, breathing difficulties and foaming at the mouth are symptoms commonly associated with toxic gas exposure.

Update 2.20pm: The New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused the Syrian government of conducting at least eight chemical attacks using chlorine gas on opposition-controlled residential areas during the final months in the battle for Aleppo last year that killed at least nine civilians and injured 200.

Also, a joint investigation by the United Nations and the international chemical weapons watchdog determined the Syrian government was behind at least three attacks in 2014 and 2015 involving chlorine gas and the Islamic State group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas.

The European Union’s top diplomat said Assad’s government must assume its responsibilities following reports of the attack in northern Syria.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that "the news is awful" and that Assad’s government "has the primary responsibility of protecting its people and not attacking its people".

She said the attack "is a dramatic reminder of the fact that the first priority is, as in any conflict, stopping the fighting".

Update 11.20am: 58 people are thought to have died in a suspected gas attack in northern Syria.

An opposition monitoring group claims an airstrike was carried out either by the Syrian government or Russian warplanes.

It says 11 children are among the dead.

Earlier: Reports suggest up to 35 people, many of them children, have been killed in a suspected chemical attack in a town in Syria’s northern Idlib province.

The Idlib Media Centre said dozens of people died of suffocation, while the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group put the death toll at 35.

Photos and video emerging from Khan Sheikhoun, in Idlib province, show children and adults limping and suffering from breathing difficulties. Some appear to be foaming at the mouth.

The opposition’s Civil Defence search-and-rescue group, which released photos showing paramedics washing down victims, has not published a casualty list.

The activist-run Assi Press published video of paramedics carrying victims from the scene by a pick-up truck. The victims were stripped down to their underwear. Many appeared unresponsive.

Al Jazeera reports that Syrian government or Russian jets attacked the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idib in the morning.

A member of the Syrian Civil Defence, a rescue group also known as the White Helmets, said: "For the past week, Idlib has been targeted by ongoing air strikes, and after yesterday’s attack, one of its main hospitals has been mostly destroyed and can no longer function."

The province of Idlib is almost entirely controlled by the Syrian opposition. It is home to some 900,000 displaced Syrians, according to the United Nations.

Rebels and opposition officials have expressed concerns that the government is planning to mount a concentrated attack on the crowded province.

There was no comment from the government in Damascus or any international agency on the attack.

The Syrian Coalition, an opposition group based outside the country, said the planes fired missiles carrying poisonous gases, killing dozens of people, many of them women and children. The coalition described the attack as a "horrifying massacre".

A doctor said his hospital in Idlib province received three victims, all with narrow, pinpoint pupils that did not respond to light.

Pinpoint pupils, breathing difficulties and foaming at the mouth are symptoms commonly associated with toxic gas exposure.

PA and Al Jazeera


 

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