At least 67 civilians were killed today in a suspected chemical gas attack in the rebel-held city of Idlib in Northern Syria. This is one of the largest mass casualty incidents which has utilized toxic gas in the six-year conflict resulting in widespread outrage and calls for international intervention.
Apart from the casualties, the attack left dozens of others suffering from respiratory problems and symptoms including foaming, vomiting, and fainting. At least 11 children were among the dead.
Hours after the initial attack, air strikes hit a hospital in the same town where doctors were treating survivors, collapsing the structure as the medics worked.
Condemnation and foul play
The raids were carried out by factions who were believed to be loyal to Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. These accusations came from the Syrian opposition which stated the attack cast doubt on the future of peace talks. A senior Syrian security source denied claims of involvement by the regime as false accusations saying that opposition forces initiated a false flag incident as propaganda against the government to help their efforts on the ground.
The attacks have brought swift condemnation from international players as France and Britain came forward demanding an emergency UN Security Council meeting. White House spokesman Sean Spicer also told reports, the president was “extremely alarmed” by the reports of the attack, claiming it’s, “reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world.” Spokesman Spicer also blamed President Obama’s administration saying it was their weakness and complacency that led to incidents such as these.
There is more than meets the eye
Interestingly, the attack came a day after the US ambassador to the United Nations; Nikki Haley stated that the American government was no longer focusing on the removal of President Assad from office and as a two-day conference on the future of the nation hosted by both the EU and UN started in Brussels.
Khan Shaykhun, itself, houses thousands of refugees from the nearby province of Hama that have fled because of the fighting. According to Ahmad Tarakji, the leader of the Syrian American Medical Society supporting hospitals in opposition-controlled areas in Syria, dozens of children suffocated to death as they slept.
This should strike at the very core of our humanity. How much longer will the world fail to respond to these heinous crimes?” SAMS claims the doctors have found the symptoms of patients are consistent with exposure to organic phosphorus compounds such as Sarin gas, the nerve agent that happens to be banned by the chemical weapons convention.
This is not the first time the Syrian government has been accused of using chemical agents on civilians, though they have consistently denied involvement and accused the rebels of deploying it instead.
A statement from the Syrian government claims it categorically rejects having any part of it. The Russian Defense Ministry also denied involvement by their government. However, Idlib has become a common drop zone for chemical agents.
A yearlong study conducted jointly by the United Nations and the OPCW came to the conclusion that regime choppers were dropping chlorine-filled bombs on the towns of Talmenes and Sarmin in 2014 and 2015. As such, chlorine escaped the chemical regulatory sanctions because it fell under the blanket of industrial uses but Khan Shaykhun was different, hence the mass casualties.
Dr. AbdulHai Tennari, a pulmonologist that treated dozens of victims of the Tuesday attack stated this was more serious than a chlorine attack and the number of deaths was too high for chlorine for an outdoor attack.