A suspected chemical attack in a rebel-held Syrian town killed 72 people and injured 400 others Tuesday, a medical relief group said, and some medics treating the wounded were later struck by rubble when an aircraft reportedly bombed a hospital.
A hospital in Syria’s northern Idlib province was hit soon after the area was bombarded with a suspected chemical agent, an AFP correspondent reported.
The U.N. Security Council is to convene for an emergency meeting over the suspected deadly chemical attack. At least 11 of the 72 people that were reported killed were children.
President Trump responded with this statement: “Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are 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. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reacted, “While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal, unabashed barbarism. Those who defend and support him, including Russia and Iran, should have no illusions about Assad or his intentions. Anyone who uses chemical weapons to attack his own people shows a fundamental disregard for human decency and must be held accountable.”
Mohammed Rasoul, the head of a Syrian ambulance service, told the BBC that first responders found people choking in the streets.
“Our team is still there, moving patients from one place to another because of overcrowded hospitals,” he said. “I am speaking to my team and they are doing fine, but the situation over there is very bad and most of those who are suffering are children.”
The media center published footage of medical workers appearing to intubate an unresponsive man stripped down to his underwear and hooking up a little girl foaming at the mouth to a ventilator.
There was no comment from the government in Damascus or any international agency in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
It 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.
Tuesday’s reports came on the eve of a major international meeting in Brussels on the future of Syria and the region, to be hosted by the EU’s High Representative Federica Mogherini.
The Syrian American Medical Society, which supports hospitals in opposition-held territory, said it had sent a team of inspectors to Khan Sheikhoun before noon and an investigation was underway.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has called on Russia to endorse a planned United Nations Security Council resolution condemning a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Gabriel said Wednesday in Brussels before the opening of the international conference on the Syria conflict that, “We appeal to Russia to approve this resolution, to investigate this case and to bring to justice those who are responsible.”
The Syrian activists had no information on what agent could have been used in the assault. They claimed the attack was caused by an airstrike carried out either by the Syrian government or Russian warplanes.
Ahmed al-Sheikho, of the Idlib Civil Defense team, says the strikes did not cause any casualties because the area had been evacuated following Tuesday’s attack.
Mohammed Hassoun, a media activist in nearby Sarmin — also in Idlib province where some of the critical cases were transferred — said the hospital there is equipped to deal with such chemical attacks because the town was also struck, early on in the Syrian uprising. The Sarmin hospital is about 31 miles away from the scene of the attack.
“Because of the number of wounded, they have been distributed around in rural Idlib,” he told The Associated Press by phone. “There are 18 critical cases here. They were unconscious, they had seizures and when oxygen was administered, they bled from the nose and mouth.”
Hassoun, who is documenting the attack for the medical society, said the doctors there have said it is likely more than one gas.
“Chlorine gas doesn’t cause such convulsions,” he said, adding that doctors suspect sarin was used.
Hussein Kayal, a photographer for the Idlib Media Center, said he was awoken by the sound of a bomb blast around 6:30 a.m. When he arrived at the scene there was no smell, he said.
He found entire families inside their homes, lying on the floor, eyes wide open and unable to move. Their pupils were constricted. He put on a mask, he said. Kayal said he and other witnesses took victims to an emergency room, and removed their clothes and washed them in water.
He said he felt a burning sensation in his fingers and was treated for that.
A Turkey-based Syrian man whose niece, her husband and one-year-old daughter were among those killed, said the warplanes struck early, as residents were still in their beds. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for the safety of family members back in Syria.
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.
Claims of chemical weapons attacks, particularly the use of the chlorine agent, are not uncommon in Syria’s conflict. The worst attack was what a U.N. report said was an attack by toxic sarin gas in August 2013 on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta that killed hundreds of civilians.
The Syrian Coalition, an opposition group based outside the country, said government planes carried out the airstrike on Khan Sheikhoun, south of the city of Idlib, the provincial capital.
It 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.”
Photos and video emerging from Khan Sheikhoun show limp bodies of children and adults. Some are seen struggling to breathe; others appear foaming at the mouth.
A medical doctor going by the name of Dr. Shajul Islam for fears for his own safety said his hospital in Idlib province received three victims, all with narrow, pinpoint pupils that did not respond to light. He published video of the patients on his Twitter account.
Pinpoint pupils, breathing difficulties, and foaming at the mouth are symptoms commonly associated with toxic gas exposure.
The opposition’s Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, which released photos showing paramedics washing down victims, has not published a casualty toll.
The activist-run Assi Press published video of paramedics carrying victims from the scene by a pickup truck. The victims were stripped down to their underwear. Many appeared unresponsive.
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.
US strikes on Syria: Syrian jets ‘take off from bombed airfield’ after Nikki Haley warned ‘we are prepared to do more’
US missile strikes on a Syrian air base have reportedly killed nine civilians – including four children – as Donald Trump launched the first direct American attack on Bashar Assad’s regime.
Four children are reported to be among nine civilians killed in the “targeted assault” on the air base, from where Mr Trump said a devastating nerve agent strike was launched earlier this week. Six servicemen are believed to have also been killed.
The UK government has offered its full support to the surprise barrage of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, which were launched from US ships in the Mediterranean and struck the Shayrat air base in central Syria in the early hours of Friday.
Russia called the attack an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”, with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman saying he believed the US had carried out the strikes under a “far-fetched pretext”.
Russia has diverted a warship to protect the Syrian coast and vowed to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s missile defences against more US strikes, risking a confrontation between the former Cold World foes.
The Admiral Grigorevich, a cruise missile-carrying frigate, passed through the Bosporus en-route to Russia’s Syrian navy base at Tartus on Friday.
The Grigorevich, which carries Moscow’s state-of-the-art Kalibr cruise missiles, was taking part in joint exercises in the Black Sea with the Turkish navy when it was ordered to turn around.
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said President Trump’s decision to directly target the Syrian regime inflicted further “considerable damage” to ties between Moscow and Washington.
“This step by Washington inflicts considerable damage to US-Russia relations, which are already in a lamentable state,” he said.
The Kremlin also announced it was immediately suspending its air safety agreement with the US in response to missile strikes on a Syrian air base.
Speaking from Florida, Mr Trump announced his strike in an emotional message to the public in which he evoked images of children dying.
US Tomahawk missiles targeted airstrips, hangars, control towers and ammunition areas in Sharyat.
Mr Assad’s office denounced US strikes as a “rash” action, describing the attack as “reckless, irresponsible behaviour” and that Washington was “naively dragged in by a false propaganda campaign”.
The Syrian army said the strikes led to “big material losses”, but Russia said they had “extremely low” military effectiveness with just 23 US rockets hitting their target and only destroying six planes in repair hangers.
Major Jamil al-Saleh, a Syrian opposition commander whose district has been hit by chemical weapons, welcomed the US attack and hopes it will be a “turning point” in the six-year civil war.
The Syrian Coalition opposition group also backed the move, with senior official Ahmad Ramadan urging Mr Trump to “hit the snake’s head”.
However, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed there is no change to America’s policy on Syria, suggesting the missile strikes will not necessarily lead to further involvement in the civil war.
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Seven Latin American nations have jointly expressed their concern about the escalation of violence in Syria and “strongly condemned the inhumane use of chemical weapons in that nation against civilians, particularly children.”
In a statement issued my Mexico’s foreign ministry, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay urged all parties involved, including countries with influence in the region, to exercise the “greatest prudence” in Syria.
The statement called on the relevant parties to avoid an escalation of tensions in Syria and to find a political solution to the conflict under the auspices of the United Nations.
A US military official has told CNN that the Pentagon is examining specifically whether a Russian warplane had bombed a hospital in Khan Sheikhoun five hours after the initial chemical attack, with the aim of destroying evidence.
Russia said the deaths in Khan Sheikhoun were caused by a Syrian regime airstrike on a rebel-controlled chemcial weapons factory on the ground. But experts and eye-witness reporting has dismissed the claim.
The statement made no reference to the US missile strikes on Syrian targets on Thursday, but said steps to prevent the deployment of chemical weapons should be backed by “the entire international community” in accordance with international law.
The memorandum, signed in October 2015, is designed to avoid clashes in the crowded airspace over Syria, with each side giving the other warning over planned strikes.
Mr Trump was reacting to the attack on Tuesday that killed at least 72 people, including 20 children, which he said was launched by Syrian president Assad.
Brian Williams is facing online criticism for waxing poetic about what he called “beautiful pictures” of U.S. missiles launching during an attack on a Syrian air base.
Video released by the military shows Tomahawk missiles targeted for a Syrian airfield launching from the decks of U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday.
During his MSNBC program, “The 11th Hour,” late Thursday night, Williams said the “beautiful pictures at night” tempted him to quote a line from a Leonard Cohen song: “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.” He went on to call the images “beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments.”
Williams was quickly mocked and criticized on Twitter for the remarks, with some users suggesting they were insensitive to the realities of war.
Russia on Friday condemned a U.S. missile strike against Syrian government forces as an attack on its ally and said it was suspending an agreement to minimize the risk of in-flight incidents between U.S. and Russian aircraft operating over Syria.
Even as Russian officials expressed hope that the strike against Syrian President Bashad al-Assad’s forces would not lead to an irreversible breakdown in U.S. relations with Moscow, the Kremlin’s decision to suspend the 2015 memorandum of understanding on the air operations immediately raised tensions in the skies over Syria.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said the risk of confrontation between aerial assets of the U.S.-led coalition and Russia has “significantly increased” after President Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed scores of civilians.
Later Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it has officially informed the United States that it is suspending its obligations under the memorandum at midnight.
Under the pact, the two countries have traded information about flights by a U.S.-led coalition targeting the Islamic State and Russian planes operating in Syria in support of the Assad government. Moscow was taking its action, the Defense Ministry said, because it sees the U.S. strike “as a grave violation of the memorandum.”
During a special U.N. Security Council session on the airstrikes Friday, Russia’s United Nations envoy condemned what he called an “illegitimate action by the United States.”
“The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious,” Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said. “The U.S. has often talked about the need to combat international terrorism,” he said, yet it attacked the Syrian air force, which he claimed is leading that fight in Syria.
“It’s not difficult to imagine how much the spirits of terrorists have been raised by this action from the United States,” Safronkov said.
Earlier in the session, the British representative had mocked Russia, saying that Assad is making a fool of his backers by committing war crimes and rebuffing Moscow’s effort to negotiate.
“Russia sits here today humiliated by its failure to bring to heel a puppet dictator,” said Matthew Rycroft, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations.
The session was requested by Bolivia, which wanted to hold it behind closed doors. The United States, which holds the rotating leadership of the Security Council this month, instead insisted that the discussions be open.
The council has set aside for now a separate discussion of whether to condemn the Assad government for Tuesday’s chemical attack. Russia is expected to veto a resolution supported by the United States, Britain and France.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, earlier claimed that the Syrian government had no chemical weapons and dismissed the Trump administration’s explanation as an excuse to enter the conflict.
“President Putin considers the American strikes against Syria an aggression against a sovereign government in violations of the norms of international law, and under a far-fetched pretext,” Peskov told reporters. “This step by Washington is causing significant damage to Russian-American relations, which are already in a deplorable state.”
“Of course, Syria is our ally, considering that we are helping the Syrian armed forces at the Syrian leadership’s request,” Peskov said.
The strike creates the possibility of a direct confrontation with Russia, which has forces on the ground and advanced air-defense systems capable of shooting down U.S. aircraft and missiles.
The so-called “deconfliction” channel that Russia suspended was established in 2015 to prevent mishaps, including collisions, after Russia deployed aircraft to a base along Syria’s Mediterranean coast and began carrying out strikes on behalf of the Syrian regime. It calls for a U.S. colonel at an air base in Qatar and a Russian colonel to man a phone hotline and inform each other of where their countries’ planes are flying.
The arrangement has been far from ideal, however, and U.S. military officials have called in recent months for an expansion of deconfliction talks as Russian and U.S. military aircraft fly in increasingly close quarters over Syrian cities such as Manbij.
Senior U.S. military officials have said they have resorted to flying advanced F-22 Raptor jets at the top of the “stack” formations used to carry out airstrikes in part because they can better keep track of incoming aircraft and direct other coalition planes to shift out of the way of incoming Russian aircraft.
Two U.S. military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday morning that they were aware of Russia’s stated intention to suspend the channel, but it was not yet clear how losing it may affect air operations. The Pentagon was still assessing the situation, they said.
One said Friday that communication through the hotline has continued, including after the attack.
“There’s someone who is on the other end who is talking to us,” one official said.
Before the missile strike, a Pentagon spokesman, Capt. Jeff Davis, said in a statement, “U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.”
There have been no reports of Russian casualties in Friday’s strike, but Syrian officials claimed that civilians, including children, were killed in the attack.
In Moscow on Friday, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said Russia would help strengthen Syrian air defenses to “protect the most sensitive Syrian infrastructure facilities.”
Konashenkov said the attack destroyed a warehouse, classrooms, a cafeteria, six Mig-23 fighter jets that were being repaired and a radar station. The runway and other aircraft were not affected, he said.
“Therefore, the military effect of the massive American missile strike on the Syrian air base was extremely small,” he said.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, also dismissed the U.S. assertion that the attacks were a response to this week’s chemical weapon attack in northern Syria, which left scores dead in a village in Idlib province — one of the last strongholds of anti-Assad factions.
“It is obvious that the strike by U.S. cruise missiles was prepared well in advance,” Zakharova said on Russian state television. “It is clear to any specialist that the decision to deliver the strikes was made in Washington before the Idlib events, which were simply used as a pretext for demonstrating force.”
Putin’s spokesman said the Russian president considered the attack an attempt to distract attention from the heavy civilian casualties caused by a U.S.-backed offensive to capture the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group.
Under a 2013 Russia-U.S. agreement, Syria agreed to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpile. A U.N. mission in 2014 confirmed that most of Assad’s “declared” chemical arsenal had been eliminated. But this week’s attack in Idlib raised questions about whether some arms were held back.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is due to arrive in Moscow next week, said the attack on Idlib meant that “clearly, Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment.”
Putin carefully orchestrated a peace process that brought together Turkey and Iran — regional powers that have backed opposing sides in the civil war. At the same time, the chemical weapons attack suggested that Assad and his Iranian allies have no intention of being party to a power-sharing agreement with the opposition, indicating that Putin’s deal is all but dead.
U.S.-Russian relations are at their lowest point in decades, over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its proxy war in eastern Ukraine, as well as allegations that the Kremlin interfered in the U.S. presidential election last year.
Following the election of Trump, Russian leaders expressed measured optimism for an improvement in relations, but Peskov and others have said that so far there has been minimal dialogue.