SARAH EL DEEB, ZEINA KARAM, AP
BEIRUT (AP) — A suspected government chemical attack in an opposition-held town in northern Syria killed dozens of people on Tuesday, leaving residents gasping for breath and convulsing in the streets and overcrowded hospitals. If confirmed, it would be the deadliest chemical attack in four years.
In Washington, President Donald Trump said, "Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world.
"These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack," Trump said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which operates through a network of activists on the ground, said at least 58 people died, including 11 children, in the early morning attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which witnesses said was carried out by Sukhoi jets operated by the Russian and Syrian governments.
Doctors struggled to cope and videos from the scene showed volunteer medics using fire hoses to wash the chemicals from victims' bodies. Haunting images of lifeless children piled in heaps reflected the magnitude of the attack, which was reminiscent of a 2013 chemical assault that left hundreds dead and was the worst in the country's ruinous six-year civil war.
After the 2013 attack, President Bashar Assad's government agreed to destroy its chemical arsenal and join the Chemical Weapons convention.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday in response to the strike, which came on the eve of a major international donors' conference in Brussels on the future of Syria and the region, to be hosted by the EU's high representative, Federica Mogherini.
The Syrian government "categorically rejected" claims that it was responsible, saying it does not possess chemical weapons, has not used them in the past and will not use them in the future. It laid the blame squarely on the rebels, accusing them of fabricating the attack and trying to frame the Syrian government. The Russian Defense Ministry also denied any involvement
Photos and video emerging from Khan Sheikhoun, which lies south of the provincial capital of Idlib, showed the limp bodies of children and adults. Some were struggling to breathe; others appeared to be foaming at the mouth.
The activist-run Assi Press published video of paramedics carrying victims, stripped down to their underwear and many appearing unresponsive, from the scene in pickup trucks.
It was not immediately clear if all those killed died from suffocation or were struck by other airstrikes that occurred 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.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters that President Donald Trump was "extremely alarmed" by reports of the attack. Spicer also laid blame on the "weakness and irresolution" of former President Barack Obama's administration, saying that Obama "did nothing" in the wake of previous chemical attacks in Syria.