World leaders expressed shock and outrage Tuesday at reports of a suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Syria’s Idlib province that killed 72 people including 11 children. The incident has drawn widespread international condemnation, with the United Nations saying it would investigate the bombing raid as a possible war crime.
Khan Sheikhoun residents said the attack began in the early hours of Tuesday morning, when they heard planes in the sky followed by a series of loud explosions, after which people very quickly began to show symptoms. They said they could not identify the planes. Both Syrian and Russian jets have bombed the area before.
According to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which runs several field hospitals in the area. At least 72 people were reported dead and more than 550 people were injured in the attack.
The group said the symptoms, which also included constricted pupils and slow heart rate, were indicative of an organo-phosphorus compounds agent – a category of toxic gases which includes sarin.
“We were affected by the gas. We couldn’t stand up,” Veda Ajej, one of the victims treated in a hospital in the Turkish town of Reyhanli, near the Syria border, told the Reuters news agency.
The Syrian National Coalition, an opposition group, said that the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack.
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.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters that President Donald Trump was “extremely alarmed” by reports of the attack, which he called “reprehensible”.
French President Francois Hollande accused the Syrian government of a “massacre”.
“Once again the Syrian regime will deny the evidence of its responsibility for this massacre,” he said in a statement.
On three previous occasions, UN investigations have found the Syrian army guilty of using chemical weapons.
In a statement, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said the use of chemical weapons, as well as any deliberate targeting of medical facilities, “would amount to war crimes and serious violations of human rights law”.
“It is imperative for perpetrators of such attacks to be identified and held accountable,” said the independent panel led by Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro.
The European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said: “Obviously there is a primary responsibility from the regime because it has the primary responsibility of protecting its people.”