A suspected gas attack killed dozens of people in Syria on Tuesday. At least 83 people died, including 25 children, and over 350 others were injured in the assault, which took place in northern Idlib province, southwest of Aleppo, according to a report from UOSSM to NBC News.
The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) is a nonprofit coalition of relief groups helping and treating victims of the war in Syria. Activists described the attack as one of the worst the country has suffered in the six years since the war began.
President Donald Trump released a statement blaming the Obama administration for weak policies regarding the use of chemical weapons.
“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” said Trump in the statement. “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.”
Syrian government denies involvement in gas attack
The Syrian government denied involvement in the gas attack, as they are complying with the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, according to state-run news agency, SANA.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the attackers apparently used banned chemical weapons and that it was the third time this month that chemical weapons were supposedly used in Syria. The Secretary of State added that it is clear that is how Bashar al-Assad operates, with brutal barbarism. He said that anyone who uses such weapons to harm his people shows disregard for human decency and needs to be held accountable for the acts.
Idlib Media Center, a pro-opposition group, posted pictures of children who appeared to be death or unconscious. The White Helmets, another volunteer group, posted images of members spraying kids with a hose.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson released a statement saying that although they cannot be certain about what happened, the attack bears the hallmarks of the Assad regime. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, called the attack barbaric.
A Syrian military officer was reached for comment by NBC News, whom in a condition of anonymity said that the government was not responsible for the attack. He told NBC that Syrian forces target terrorist groups, not civilians and that the country will keep fighting against terrorism until victory is accomplished.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied involvement in chemical weapons attacks, blaming instead at the rebels. However, after a sarin gas attack in Damascus in 2013 that killed hundreds of civilians, Assad agreed to destroy chemical weapons in Syria.
A U.S. senior State Department official said that if the attack is proven to have been conducted by Assad’s regime, Russia and Iran will have a lot of answering to do too.
“Russia has said it had nothing to do with the airstrikes in Syria today, but that’s not the issue,” explained the official in a conference. “The issue is an apparent inability or unwillingness to hold the regime to its own commitments and to account.”
Trump administration blames Obama and shifts position on Assad
Trump noted that President Barack Obama issued a “red line” in 2012 that proposed that the US would intervene in Syria if the Assad regime used chemical weapons. However, after evidence was shown that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons, Obama refused to intervene militarily in the country, bargaining instead a deal in which the Syrian regime agreed to remove chemical weapons from the country.
President Trump’s statement condemned the actions of President Obama back in 2012. However, Trump tweeted in 2013 that the U.S. should not attack Syria because dreadful things could happen from doing so.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said that the Trump administration’s priority was no longer focused on getting Assad out. The representative stated that you pick and choose your battles, and looking at the crisis in Syria, their priority had shifted from sitting and focusing on getting Assad out. She explained that the administration would focus on putting a different pressure, unlike the last administration’s, to make a difference for the people in Syria.
Another Trump administration official told Reuters that Haley’s remarks were realistic and that their focus is on defeating ISIS and preventing Syria from continuing to being used as a terrorist safe haven.
On Thursday, Tillerman said that Assad’s longer-term status would be decided by the Syrian people, which raised worries among some politics. Republican Senator John McCain stated that Tillerson’s remarks overlooked the reality that Syrian people cannot decide the fate of Assad when they are being slaughtered by the regime, Russia’s air force, and Iranian militias. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also echoed McCain’s statement and said that it would be a grave mistake to remove Assad as an objective and that the news would be crushing to the Syrian opposition and U.S. allies in the region.
Source: NBC News