Assad has ‘primary responsibility’: EU
France calls for Security Council meeting
BRUSSELS/PARIS — A suspected gas attack, believed to be by Syrian government jets, that killed at least 58 people including 11 children under the age of eight in the northwestern province of Idlib on Tuesday evoked international outcry.
The European Union’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini said Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad held “primary responsibility”.
“Today the news is awful. This is a dramatic reminder that the situation on the ground still continues to be dramatic in many parts of Syria,” Mogherini told reporters.
“Obviously there is a primary responsibility from the regime because it has the primary responsibility of protecting its people.”
France’s foreign minister called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council after what he said was a “disgusting” gas attack on Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province.
“In the face of such serious actions that threaten international security, I ask for everyone not to shirk their responsibilities. With this in mind, I ask for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council,” Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a statement.
France, Britain and the United States in February put forward a resolution to impose sanctions targeting Syrian government officials over accusations of chemical weapon attacks during the six-year conflict.
“The use of chemical weapons constitutes an unacceptable violation of the convention against chemical weapons and is another example of the barbarity that the Syrian people have been under for so many years,” Ayrault said.
Before a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss aid for Syria, Ayrault said Europe could not play a role in the country’s reconstruction without a credible transition.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the gas attack, Turkish presidential sources said in Ankara.
“President Erdogan touched on the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Idlib. President Erdogan said such inhumane attacks are unacceptable,” a statement attributed to presidential sources said.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey condemned the suspected chemical attack, describing it as a crime against humanity.
Speaking to reporters in the western Turkish province of Isparta in comments broadcast on live television, Cavusoglu said the suspected use of chemical weapons could derail the process of Syrian peace talks being held in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Syria opposition activists described the attack as among the worst in the country’s six-year civil war.
Hours after the attack, a small field hospital in the region was struck and destroyed, according to a civil defense worker in the area.
The Idlib Media Center said dozens of people had been killed.
It 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. It was not immediately clear if all those killed died from suffocation or were struck by other airstrikes occurring in the area around the same time.
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.
Tarik Jasarevic, spokesman for the World Health Organization in Geneva, said in an e-mailed statement that the agency is contacting health providers from Idlib to get more information about Tuesday’s incident.
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.
The Syrian activists claimed the attack was caused by an air strike. Makeshift hospitals soon crowded with people suffocating, they said.
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. The Syrian Coalition, an opposition group based outside the country, said government planes fired missiles carrying poisonous gases on Khan Sheikhoun, describing the attack as a “horrifying massacre.” — Agencies