Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Syria 'chemical attack' kills at least 35 people in Idlib province

War monitor says medical sources in town of Khan Sheikhun reported symptoms including fainting, vomiting and foaming at mouth

At least 35 people have been killed in a suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town in north-west Syria, a war monitor has said.
White Helmets extinguish a house fire caused by an airstrike in Maarat al-Nuaman town, Idlib province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed in the town of Khan Sheikhun, in the central province of Idlib, had died from the effects of some sort of gas. Dozens more suffered respiratory problems and other symptoms, the SOHR said.

The UK-based monitoring group was unable to confirm the nature of the substance, and said it was unclear if the planes involved in the attack were Syrian or those of government ally Russia. The victims were mostly civilians, it said, and included at least nine children.

The reported gas attack comes at the start of a two-day conference on Syria’s future hosted in Brussels by the European Union and the United Nations.

It said medical sources in the town reported symptoms among the affected including fainting, vomiting and foaming at the mouth.

Photographs circulated by activists showed members of the volunteer White Helmets rescue group using hoses to wash down the injured, as well as at least two men with white foam around their mouths.

Idlib is largely controlled by an alliance of rebels including theFateh al-Sham Front, a former al-Qaida affiliate.

The province is regularly targeted in strikes by the regime, as well as Russian warplanes, and has also been hit by the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State, usually targeting jihadis.

Syria’s government officially joined the chemical weapons convention and turned over its chemical arsenal in 2013 as part of a deal to avert US military action.

But there have been repeated allegations of chemical weapons use by the government since then, with a UN-led investigation blaming the regime for at least three chlorine attacks in 2014 and 2015.
The government denies the use of chemical weapons and has in turn accused rebels of using banned weapons.

Tuesday’s attack comes only days after forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were accused of using chemical weapons in a counter-offensive in neighbouring Hama province.
The opposition accused the government forces of using “toxic substances” in its battle to repel the assault.

On Thursday, airstrikes on several areas in the north of Hama province left around 50 people suffering respiratory problems, according to the Observatory, which could not confirm the cause of the symptoms.

The monitor relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its information, says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used.

More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

Tuesday’s gathering in Brussels has been billed as a follow-up to a donors’ conference last year in London, where billions of pounds for humanitarian aid programmes in the devastated country was pledged.


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