VOL. 132 | NO. 69 | Thursday, April 6, 2017
Death Toll in Syria Chemical Attack Rises to 86
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the suspected chemical attack in Syria (all times local):
A Syrian monitoring group says the death toll from a suspected chemical weapons attack on the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun has risen to 86.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says those killed in Tuesday's attack include 30 children and 20 women.
U.S. intelligence officials, the World Health Organization, and Doctors Without Borders say the initial evidence points to the use of nerve gas in the attack.
The Trump administration and other international officials accuse the Syrian government of carrying out the strike, allegations Damascus has denied.
Moscow, a stalwart ally of the Syrian government, says toxic gases were released when Syrian government jets bombed a rebel munitions factory in the town's outskirts.
EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides says international donors have pledged $6 billion to help conflict-torn Syria this year, in line with their target.
Stylianides said donors from more than 70 countries meeting in Brussels on Wednesday made a "collective pledge of $6 billion for this year alone."
He said the country's "needs are massive. Our conference is sending a powerful message. We are not letting down the people of Syria."
He described the pledge made in Brussels as "an impressive figure. These commitments are significant."
The meeting was overshadowed by a suspected chemical weapons attack in northern Syria on Tuesday that killed more than 70 people, one of the worst attacks of its kind since the conflict began more than six years ago.
The U.S. envoy to the U.N. has warned that the Trump administration may take action against chemical attacks in Syria that bear "all the hallmarks" of President Bashar Assad's government if the U.N. Security Council fails to act.
Ambassador Nikki Haley urged the council at an emergency meeting Wednesday to immediately approve a draft resolution sponsored by the U.S., Britain and France that condemns and threatens consequences for the use of chemical weapons.
Holding up photos of victims of a suspected chemical weapons attack the day before that killed dozens of people, she accused Russia of blocking action.
She said Moscow had closed its eyes to the "barbarity" of previous chemical attacks by vetoing a resolution in late February that would have imposed sanctions on those responsible.
Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, opposed the draft resolution, saying it was based on information from "discredited" groups.
Haley ended her remarks by warning that "when the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action."
The Turkish Health Ministry says three victims of a suspected chemical attack in northern Syria have died while being treated in Turkey.
A ministry statement said Wednesday that 29 people wounded in the attack were still being cared for in hospitals in the country.
Turkey set up a decontamination center at a border crossing in the province of Hatay following the attack where the victims are initially treated before being moved to area hospitals.
Israeli defense officials say military intelligence believes Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces were behind the suspected chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians.
The officials said Israel believes Assad has tons of chemical weapons currently in his arsenal. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday as they are not allowed to brief media.
Israel has warned against "game-changing" weapons reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon from Syria, which along with Iran supports the militant group. Last month Israel shot down an anti-aircraft missile fired at its planes as they struck a suspected Hezbollah weapons convoy.
Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of Syria's civil war, with the U.N. blaming three attacks on the Syrian government and a fourth on the Islamic State group.
—Ian Deitch in Jerusalem
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blamed a suspected chemical attack that killed at least 72 people in northern Syria on the Syrian regime and has accused the world of not speaking out against the attack.
Addressing crowds in northwest Turkey on Wednesday, Erdogan said Syrian President Bashar Assad would suffer "from the curse" of the victims while the United Nations would be called to account for its alleged silence.
Erdogan, while campaigning for an upcoming referendum that would expand the president's powers, said, "Oh murderer Assad, how will you escape their curse? The United Nations who remained silent; how will it account for this?"
Erdogan also said Turkey was caring for some of the victims who were brought to the country.
He said: "We are doing our best but this is not enough ... I am sad as a father. Those children's situations are wounding our hearts."
Britain's U.N. ambassador says the attack in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province "bears all the hallmarks" of President Bashar Assad's regime and the United Kingdom believes a nerve agent capable of killing over a hundred people was used.
Matthew Rycroft told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that Russia has said a government airstrike struck an opposition depot for munitions.
He said the U.K. has seen nothing that suggests any opposition groups "have the sort of chemical weapons that would be consistent with the symptoms that we saw yesterday,"
"We have every indication that this was a sustained attack using aircraft over a number of hours," Rycroft said. "We see all the signs of an attack using a nerve agent capable of killing over a hundred people and harming hundreds more."
He said only one air force has used such weapons in Syria and it is Assad's air force.
He urged support for the new resolution drafted by Britain, France and the United States condemning chemical attacks in Syria and urging government cooperation in an investigation and consequences.
The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (known by its French acronym MSF) says victims of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria one day ago showed symptoms of exposure to nerve gas.
The group said victims the symptoms — constricted pupils, muscle spasms, and involuntary defecation — were consistent with exposure to sarin gas or similar agents.
An MSF medical team evaluated patients at the Bab al-Hawa Hospital near the Turkish border, in Syria, the group said in a statement Wednesday. The flow of victims of the attack Tuesday morning attack in Khan Sheikhoun overwhelmed local hospitals, and paramedics sent patients to medical centers across Idlib province and in neighboring Turkey.
MSF said its medical teams reported smelling bleach at other hospitals treating victims, suggesting they were also exposed to chlorine gas. The organization said the reports "strongly suggest that victims ... were exposed to at least two different chemical agents."
Sarin gas was used in a 2013 chemical weapons attack on opposition suburbs around the Syrian capital of Damascus, the U.N. has reported, killing hundreds of civilians. The U.S. said the Syrian government was responsible.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it removed 1,300 tons of chemical weapons stocks, including sarin gas, from Syrian government stores after the Damascus area attacks. But rebels and opposition officials have maintained that the government held on to some of its stockpiles.
A top Syrian rebel representative says he holds U.N. mediator Staffan De Mistura "personally responsible" for the suspected chemical weapons attack that killed more than 70 people in northern Syria one day ago.
Mohammad Alloush, the rebels' chief negotiator at U.N.-mediated talks with the Syrian government, said the U.N.'s Special Envoy for Syria's must begin labeling the Syrian government as responsible for killing civilians. He said U.N.'s silence "legitimizes" the strategy.
"The true solution for Syria is to put (Syrian President) Bashar Assad the chemical weapons user in court, and not at the negotiations table," said Alloush, who is an official in the Islam Army faction among the Syrian rebels.
Syria's rebels, and the Islam Army in particular, are also accused of killing civilians in Syria, but rights watchdogs attribute the overwhelming portion of civilian causalities over the course of the six-year-war to the actions of government forces and their allies.
A proposed U.N. Security Council resolution would condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria and stress the government's obligation to provide information about air operations on Tuesday when a suspected chemical attack killed dozens of people.
The resolution drafted by Britain, France and the United States would also stress Syria's requirement to give investigators the names of those in command of any helicopter squadrons on April 4.
And it calls for immediate access for investigators to air bases where attacks involving chemical weapons may have been launched.
Sponsors were hoping for a vote as early as Wednesday afternoon on the draft resolution.
The Security Council was holding an emergency meeting on the suspected attack in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province, one of the deadliest in the six-year civil war.
The Russian Foreign Ministry says it opposes a Western draft U.N. resolution condemning a chemical attack in Syria.
The ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said Wednesday the draft blames the Syrian government for Tuesday's attack without any credible investigation.
Zakharova said that video and photo evidence of the attack presented by volunteer first responders could have been fabricated. She blamed the West for staging a "political show" and called for an international probe.
Tuesday's attack on Khan Sheikhoun has killed 72, causing an international outcry. Washington has put the blame on the Syrian government, saying that President Bashar Assad's patrons, Russia and Iran, bore "great moral responsibility" for it.
The Russian military said the chemicals were released after Syrian warplanes bombed a facility where rebels were making their own chemical weapons.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says Britain and the United States were wrong when they failed to act against Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2013 after he crossed their "red line" and used chemical weapons.
Speaking at a donor conference for Syria a day after a new suspected chemical attack killed dozens of people, Johnson said "we are living today with the consequences, and I'm afraid the people of Syria are living today with the consequences, of that decision."
He said that with an estimated 400,000 people killed in Syria's six-year conflict, Assad has to go.
Johnson said Assad "is responsible for the vast majority of that butcher's bill, and you have to go back a long way in history to find a tyrant who has stayed in office in such circumstances."
Russia says it will submit information from its Defense Ministry to a U.N. Security Council session called to discuss a suspected chemical attack in Syria that killed dozens of people.
Western countries say evidence indicates that Syrian pro-government forces were behind Tuesday's attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Russia is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and is waging an air campaign on his behalf.
The Russian military has said the chemicals were released after Syrian warplanes bombed a facility where rebels were making their own chemical weapons.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said that at the U.N. meeting Russia "will at least cite in a well-argued manner those data that were mentioned by our Defense Ministry."
French president Francois Hollande is condemning what he calls a "war crime" after a suspected chemical attack in Syria.
Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll reported Hollande's comments Wednesday during a weekly Cabinet meeting.
Hollande recalled that France had pushed for an international military campaign against Syrian President Bashar Assad over his use of chemical weapons in 2013.
"France has not changed its position on this issue", he said according to Le Foll.
France has supported Syrian rebels against Assad for years.
Turkish officials have raised the number of Syrians being treated in Turkey after a suspected chemical attack to 58.
A statement from the governor's office for the border province of Hatay says Wednesday the victims are being treated in several state and private hospitals in the towns of Antakya, Reyhanli and Iskenderun.
The statement did not provide any detail on their conditions.
Earlier, Turkey's health minister said about 30 people had been brought to Turkey and that the initial findings and symptoms pointed to a chemical attack.
He said Turkey was sharing its findings with the World Health Organization.
The EU Council president has condemned a suspected chemical attack that killed dozens of people in an opposition-held town in northern Syria.
Donald Tusk says Tuesday's attack in Khan Sheikhoun is "another reminder of the brutality" of Syria's regime and the perpetrators must be held accountable.
Tusk said Wednesday that the Syrian regime bears "the primary responsibility for the atrocities," but also blamed supporters of President Bashar Assad's government who he said share the "moral and political responsibility."
Assad's government has denied involvement in the attack, saying it does not possess chemical weapons, and laid the blame on rebel forces.
Tusk spoke in Athens, following talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
A pair of Israeli lawmakers is urging parliaments around the world to hold "emergency" discussions on the suspected chemical attack in Syria.
Erel Margalit and Nachman Shai, both members of the opposition Zionist Union, sent their request to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organization of national parliaments around the world.
In Tuesday's letter, they urged fellow parliamentarians to condemn the alleged attack, which they said is "taking humanity 70 years backwards."
"The day when mass extermination measures are taken against people is the day when we as members of parliaments should stand fierce in the fire front and stop the horror," they wrote.
Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting in neighboring Syria, though it has carried out airstrikes on suspected arms shipments to Syrian ally Hezbollah.
Pope Francis has called a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens, including many children, in Syria "an unacceptable massacre."
The pope said Wednesday during his general audience that he was "watching with horror at the latest events in Syria," and said he "strongly deplored the unacceptable massacre."
He called on the "conscious of those with political responsibility both locally and internationally to cease this tragedy and bring relief to that dear population that for too long has been exhausted by war."
He also encouraged those bringing aid to the stricken population "even amid insecurity and discomfort."
NATO's chief is condemning the chemical attack in northern Syria and calling for those responsible to be held to account.
Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement Wednesday that "this is the third report of the use of these barbaric weapons in the last month alone."
He recalled that the use of chemical weapons is prohibited and that "this international norm must be fully respected and upheld."
He said Syria "is responsible to ensure its full compliance with these obligations."
Turkey's health minister says some 30 Syrians have been brought to the Turkish city of Gaziantep, bordering Syria, for treatment following a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Recep Akdag said Wednesday that initial symptoms and findings confirm that the wounded were the victims of a chemical attack. His comments were reported by the Haber Turk news channel.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that at least 72 people died, including 11 children, in Tuesday's attack in a rebel-held town in northern Syria.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri says people should not be shocked by the chemical attack that killed dozens in Syria because the international community is allowing such acts to happen.
Hariri said Wednesday that "the world should not be shocked because it's letting such a regime do what it is doing. What should shock us is the increase of children dying and that the whole world is watching."
He told reporters at a Syria donor conference in Belgium that "everyone is coming to Brussels to make a statement and the regime made its statement in Syria."
Hariri also said that Lebanon has been overwhelmed by the arrival of some 1.5 million Syrian refugees and "cannot sustain this issue anymore. The international community has to do something."
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 U.N. Security Council is to convene for an emergency meeting over a suspected deadly chemical attack in a town in northern Syria earlier this week, where at least 72 people were reported killed, including 11 children.
Nearly 400,000 people have been killed and half of Syria's population has been displaced by the six-year conflict.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres says the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria the day before is a "moment of truth" that must be investigated.
Hs remarks came as a Syrian monitoring group said the death toll from the attack on a northern town the previous day has increased to 72 and activists reported renewed airstrikes on the same town.
Guterres told reporters at a Syria donor conference in Brussels on Wednesday that he hopes "this moment will be able to mobilize the capacity of all those that have responsibilities in this situation."
He says "the horrific events of yesterday demonstrate that unfortunately war crimes are going on in Syria, that international humanitarian law remains being violated frequently."
He added he is "confident that the Security Council will live up to its responsibilities," with major powers set to convene there later in the day.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says that "all the evidence" he had seen so far in the latest chemical weapons attack in Syria "suggests this was the Assad regime who did it in the full knowledge that they were using illegal weapons in a barbaric attack on their own people."
Johnson also says that he does "not see how a government like that can continue to have any kind of legitimate administration over the people of Syria."
He added that he "would like to see those culpable pay a price for this."
Johnson spoke on Wednesday at the start of a Brussels pledging conference for Syria, where the United Nations, EU and world financial institutions have begun technical work to figure out what will be needed to rebuild war-ravaged Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that at least 58 people died, including 11 children, in Tuesday's chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held town in northern Syria.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says his government condemns in the strongest possible terms the chemical weapons attack against civilians, including children, at Khan Sheikhoun.
He said in a statement Wednesday that the use of chemical weapons is "illegal and abhorrent."
He said, "While the full facts are still to be determined, if the Assad regime is responsible for this attack those who approved and deployed these weapons must be held accountable."
The Russian Defense Ministry says a rebel-held town in northern Syria has been exposed to toxic agents from a rebel arsenal hit by a Syrian air strike.
The ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said in a statement early Wednesday that the Russian military assets registered a Syrian air force strike Tuesday on weapons depots and ammunition factory on the eastern outskirts of the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
Konashenkov said chemical weapons produced by the factory were used in Iraq.
He added that the same type of chemical weapons had been previously used by the rebels in Aleppo, where they had caused symptoms similar to those seen in images from Khan Sheikhoun.
Konashenkov said that Russia had provided relevant ground samples from Aleppo to the international chemical weapons watchdog.
The Russian statement follows an international outcry over what was described as a chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 58 people died, including 11 children.
Both Russia and Syria have denied launching the chemical attack.
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