IDLIB — Dozens of people are dead after a suspected chemical attack in the Khan Shaykhun neighborhood of Idlib province, Syria. Yahoo News spoke to several eyewitnesses via WhatsApp and Facebook.
One Syrian activist, Zouhir, said his brother is in Idlib. Zouhir told Yahoo News, “The attacks started at 7 a.m. in the area. Civil defense [rescue teams] responded right away but didn’t know where the attack had come from. As they were helping people, another sudden attack took place near the hospital.”
Zouhir said his brother reported more than one attack in the area, and that rescuers had identified the chemical as “sarin gas” based on victims’ symptoms like “yellow material coming out of their mouth, then blood, and difficulty breathing.”
Photos and video have emerged on social media showing children piled on the ground, half naked and extremely thin, suggesting severe malnutrition. Another video showed children dead, with their eyes open. Bodies including those of women could be seen strewn in the streets.
An eyewitness, Zadi, said he saw a little girl who looked like she “had butter coming out of her mouth” and that when people were rushing toward the hospital, they were “targeted with rocket-propelled grenades.”
Yet another eyewitness, Yaman, also spoke with Yahoo News and said he went to see what happened at the hospital; while there, “Khan Shaykun was directly targeted by [several] air raids, by Russian aircraft — it destroyed the hospital and caused the deaths of children inside who were receiving treatment.” He called the attacks a “massacre.”
The Russian Defense Ministry has denied claims that its aircraft were involved in the attack.
One doctor treating victims, Dr. Feras al-Jundi, went to a hospital in a neighborhood not far from Khan Shaykhun to help. He said the scene was ghastly: “I saw a lot of victims. The hospital was filled with them. There were a lot of unconscious people,” he said. “I tried to help the women, children and old men. I saw more than 10 [dead], and then the hospital was attacked three times. People were in a state of anxiety and fear.”
He blames the Syrian government for the attack. But a Syrian military official denied the accusations and stated that the government “has not and does not use [chemical weapons], not in the past and not in the future, because it does not have them in the first place.”
The last major chemical assault took place in the Damascus neighborhood of Ghouta in August 2013. At the time, the United Nations called it a “war crime.” Following the attack, the Syrian government agreed to give up its chemical arsenal, but concerns have been raised among international players about Assad’s transparency.
The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, calling the attack “monstrous.” A Security Council meeting has been called for Wednesday.
The attack comes after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Ankara that it should be up to the Syrian people to decide if Assad should stay in power. Since January, the U.S. has turned its focus to defeating the Islamic State militant group in Raqqa and Mosul.
Ash Gallagher is a journalist covering the Mideast for Yahoo News.
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