Sunday 19 November 2017

Here's everything we know so far about the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria

Turkish experts evacuate a victim of a suspected chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian city of Idlib, at a local hospital in Reyhanli, Turkey, Tuesday, April 4, 2017. A suspected chemical attack in a town in Syria's rebel-held northern Idlib province killed dozens of people on Tuesday, opposition activists said, describing the attack as among the worst in the country's six-year civil war. (DHA-Depo Photos via AP)
Turkish experts evacuate a victim of a suspected chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian city of Idlib, at a local hospital in Reyhanli, Turkey, Tuesday, April 4, 2017. A suspected chemical attack in a town in Syria's rebel-held northern Idlib province killed dozens of people on Tuesday, opposition activists said, describing the attack as among the worst in the country's six-year civil war. (DHA-Depo Photos via AP)

By Taylor Heyman

Assad’s regime has denied responsibility for the attack.

A suspected chemical gas attack in northern Syria has killed at least 58 people and left dozens injured, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

So what do we know so far?

What happened?

A gas attack occurred on Tuesday in the town of Khan Sheiktoun, in northern Syria. The province of Idlib, in which the attack occurred, is almost exclusively controlled by Syrian opposition forces and is home to over 900,000 displaced Syrians.

Opposition activists say they do not know what type of gas was used in the attack, but that 11 children were killed in the attack and the death toll was expected to rise.

Shortly after the incident, activists say a field hospital treating the injured was hit by an airstrike.

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.

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

Who’s responsible?

The Syrian government is denying involvement in the incident. An official from the foreign ministry told SANA, the country’s official news agency, that it had “not used them before or later and doesn’t seek to acquire them.”

However, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says the alleged chemical attack near Idlib “bears all the hallmarks” of the Syrian government.

He went on to say he was “horrified” at the reports of the attack and said Bashar Assad’s government has repeatedly used chemical weapons in the past.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has also rejected the claim that its planes attacked a northern Syrian town with chemical weapons.

The ministry said that “Russian air force planes haven’t dealt any strikes on Khan Sheikhoun in the province of Idlib.”

The Syrian military blamed any use of chemical weapons on the opposition and those who support them. It says the rebels fabricate accusations of chemical attacks to divert attention from their battlefield failures.

What are foreign actors saying about the attack?

The European Union’s top diplomat says Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government must assume its responsibilities following the reports of the attack.

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”.

Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “shocked and outraged” by images of the victims and called on the international community to “fully and finally remove these horrible weapons from Syria.”

France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is calling for an emergency UN Security Council meeting over a suspected chemical attack in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province.

Theresa May condemned the attack and called for an investigation, saying: “If proven, this will be further evidence of the barbarism of the Syrian regime, and the UK has led international efforts to call to account the Syrian regime and Daesh for the use of chemical weapons and I would urge the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate this incident as soon as possible.”

Turkey’s foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the attack “a crime against humanity,” but also went on to criticise Western nations who, he said, give frequent lectures to the Middle East on human rights but, “remained carefree when the red line was crossed before.”

Is this the first chemical gas attack in Syria?

No. Tuesday’s attack was the third claim of a chemical attack in just over a week in Syria. The previous two were reported in Hama province, in an area not far from Khan Sheikhoun, the site of Tuesday’s alleged attack.

The worst attack was what a UN report said was an attack by toxic sarin gas in August 2013 on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta that killed hundreds of civilians.

In the wake of the 2013 attack, Assad agreed to a Russia-sponsored deal to destroy his chemical arsenal and joined the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Press Association

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