Activists said the Syrian regime was responsible for the killings of at least 70 people — 10 children among the dead — leading the United Nations to replace a scheduled Security Council session for Wednesday morning with an emergency meeting.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military denied using chemical weapons and blamed rebels for the carnage. Russia, Syria’s strong ally, said it had no warplanes in the vicinity.
But from Washington to London to Jerusalem, leaders denounced the reported airstrike, which if proven true would be one of the deadliest chemical attacks in Syria in years.
“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” US President Donald Trump said, adding that he thinks the attacks was a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution. “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, speaking at a news conference with his German counterpart, had harsh criticism of the Syrian government.
“If this were to be proved to have been committed by the Assad regime then it would be another reason to think they are an absolutely heinous outfit, that is, it is a war crime,” he said.
An emergency UN Security Council session has been scheduled for Wednesday morning, according to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who called for the meeting, described the attack as a “despicable act.”
The United States, United Kingdom and France have circulated a resolution at the Security Council regarding the attack. It could be put to a vote.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote a series of tweets, saying in one: “There’s no, none, no excuse whatsoever for the deliberate attacks on civilians and on children, especially with cruel and outlawed chemical weapons.”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Russia and Iran “to exercise their influence over the Syrian regime” and said that the two nations “bear great moral responsibility for these deaths.”
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said she was appalled by the attack.
“I am very clear that there can be no future for Assad in a stable Syria, which is representative of all the Syrian people,” May said, “and I call on all of the parties involved to ensure that we have a transition away from Assad.”
Airstrikes hit the rebel-held city of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on Tuesday morning, giving off a “poisonous gas,” according to Anas al-Diab, an activist with the Aleppo Media Center.
A man carries a child into a makeshift hospital after Tuesday's attack in Idlib province.
A man carries a child into a makeshift hospital after Tuesday’s attack in Idlib province.
Many casualties were the result of asphyxiation, doctors said. Videos on social media purporting to be from the scene show people, including children, who appear unresponsive; others struggle to breathe or wear oxygen masks.
A doctor in a hospital close to Khan Sheikhoun told CNN: “Today around 7:30 a.m., about 125 … arrived to our hospital. Twenty-five of them were already dead, 70% to 80% of the wounded people were kids and women.
“The symptoms were pale skin, sweating, narrow or pin-eye pupils, very intense respiratory detachments. Those symptoms match the usage of sarin.”
The doctor, who cannot be named for security reasons, said tests were needed to identify whether sarin gas, a man-made nerve agent, was to blame.
Dr. Fares al-Jundi rushed to the hospital. He estimated there were 500 wounded people. They covered the floors of the entire hospital, from the patients’ rooms to the operating rooms and the corridors.
The doctor said whole families were killed. They died of asphyxiation; foam covered their mouths. Many died suddenly, he said. “I believe this horrible memory will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Abdullah, who had common side effects of a nerve gas attack — blurred vision, a splitting headache and lethargy — told CNN the scene was chaos. Families died in their homes, and in the streets, children risked exposure looking for their parents.
At first, people were unaware it was a gas attack, Abdullah said. People who rushed to help others were overtaken by the gas, including several White Helmets, who had to be rescued by others from the group, also known as the Syrian Civil Defense.
The Aleppo Media Center put the death toll at 70 but there were different numbers from other groups. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 58 were dead, including 10 children. The High Negotiations Committee, an umbrella opposition group, said as many as 100 died.
In an apparent reference to the crisis, two state-run Syrian media outlets earlier reported an explosion at a “rebel poison gas factory” in the countryside of Idlib province, implying that it was an accident related to rebels building chemical weapons. Idlib province is largely controlled by an alliance of rebel forces and is regularly targeted in airstrikes by the Syrian military and its ally, Russia
The Russian Defense Ministry said none of its jets carried out airstrikes in the area, according to a ministry statement carried by state-run news agency Tass.