Image Idlib APR4 EMC
Photo provided Tuesday, April 4, 2017 by the Syrian anti-government activist group Edlib Media Center

Syrian government attacks Idlib with gas, 58 reported dead, 11 children

Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib Province, Syria – Air strikes began just after dawn at 06:40, with Syrian Air Force SU-22 military jet fighters deploying what is believed to have been sarin gas on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, in the Idlib province. First responders arrived to the scene minutes later. People lay in the street, unable to breathe, vomiting and foaming at the mouth, symptoms of a nerve agent attack, like sarin. A follow up attack used traditional explosive ordinance, and struck moments after the first ambulance arrived.

Image Idlib APR4
(Photo provided Tuesday, April 4, 2017 by the Syrian anti-government activist group Edlib Media Center)

Rubble came down on the first responders as follow up air strikes hit the area. “Gas!” someone screamed, as a young child fell down to their knees, coughing up foam. Volunteer first responders tried using water from fire hoses to wash the chemical agent off victims. The attack left at least 58 people dead, and hundreds injured. 11 children, under the age of eight, are part of the casualty list. The number is expected to rise in the coming hours as people succumb to their injuries.

The attack was first reported by the Syrian Civil Defense, the volunteer first-responders organization commonly known as the White Helmets, and the pro-opposition British monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The main medical clinic in the small town, the Khan Sheikhoun Central Hospital, was hit directly by a follow up airstrike within hours of the initial attack. Inside the hospital, pieces of the ceiling came down upon the doctors and nurses that were caring for incoming patients in a makeshift Emergency Room.

Months earlier the actual ER had been devastated by a Russian air strike, rendered inaccessible due to structural damage. Fearing follow-up attacks on the hospital, additional first aid stations were set up in the houses across the street, and in the courtyard outside of the hospital, with living rooms serving as operation rooms.

The headquarters of the al Nusra affiliated aid organization, the White Helmets, was also hit by air strikes.

First responders washing children.

Pro-opposition groups were quick to circulate photos, allegedly from the attack, of bodies of at least seven children in the back of a pick-up truck. These images are yet to be authenticated.

Two hours after the alleged gas attack on downtown Khan Sheikhoun and its central hospital, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) reported that it had attacked a chemical weapons factory on the outskirts of the town, roughly 3-4 miles from where the airstrikes occurred. The factory was allegedly operated by the al Nusra affiliated umbrella organization known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and was allegedly producing sarin gas. SAA claims to have gained control over the facility, and to have secured the chemical compounds found inside.

The SAA has denied involvement in any chemical weapons attacks today, and while the main Syrian opposition alliance, the National Coalition, is actively accusing the Syrian regime of being behind the attack and is encouraging the UN Security Council to order an investigation, it is likely that little will come out of it.

The attack appears to be one of the deadliest chemical attacks in Syria since the civil war began six years ago. The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has stated that the UN Security Council will convene at 10:00 on April 6th, one day after the attack, to discuss the attack.

Throughout the day, Russian and Syrian warplanes have carried out tens of airstrikes on opposition positions in the Idlib province and in the rebel-controlled parts of East Ghouta, outside of Damascus.

In response, President Trump condemned the attack, but then took to blaming Barack Obama. In a White House statement issued today:

“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.”

Back in 2013, Trump had advised President Obama not to attack Syria, in addition to posting more than a dozen tweets throughout 2013 and 2014 stating that “Syria is not our problem,” and that Obama should “stay out of Syria.”

Image Trump tweet re: Syria gas attack red line

What does Sarin gas do to people?

Top: Eye of victim of today’s attack.
Bellow: Before and after shot, showing the shrinking of pupils of a rabbit exposed to nerve gas in a lab. For more details on sarin’s effects, check out the Center for Disease Control, or the Atlantic.

UPDATE:

[Main image photo provided by the Syrian anti-government activist group Edlib Media Center]

John Sjoholm, Middle East Bureau Chief, Lima Charlie News

John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief, and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Jordan. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

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