The Chemical Attack That Prompted The U.S. Response

The death toll in the northern Idlib region in Syria is expected to rise after a chemical bombing on Tuesday morning that brutally injured over 300 civilians. Many members of the international community have condemned the bombing and blamed President Bashar al-Assad for his suspected role, though both the Syrian government and their Russian allies deny any involvement in the attack. The attack might be the deadliest attack in Syria since the 2013 attack outside the capital city of Damascus, where 100 civilians were killed with sarin gas, a similar gas to the chemical used in this attack.

According to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), there are now 72 people confirmed dead. 11 of those victims are children. The UK group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that 99 people were killed and 37 of those victims are children. Both groups agree though that the number will rise in the coming days as more bodies are discovered. The head of Idlib’s health directorate, Munzir Khalil told reporters, “we can confirm the names of 74 people killed. But the hospitals expect the number to rise to 107 because many have gone missing and we suspect they have been killed in the attack.” Hospitals in the region are overwhelmed with patients. The attack comes after a Monday bombing by the Russian military that destroyed the region’s largest hospital.

Officials have yet to confirm the exact gas used in the attack, though it has been classified as a nerve gas. Though chorine attacks are common in Syria, the symptoms after this bombing do not mirror these past attacks. Victims were described as vomiting and foaming at the mouth. Other symptoms included slow heart rates, muscle spasms, and constricted pupils. One survivor, Veda Ajej, reported, “we were affected by the gas. We couldn’t stand up. I felt dizzy and nauseous – I couldn’t breathe.” Another survivor, Ahmed, told reporters, “my family and I were sleeping during the attack. The bombing was carried out and there was a big explosion. I felt dizzy and nauseous. I had trouble breathing – I don’t remember the rest.” According to Peter Salama, the head of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program, “the images and reports coming from Idlib today leave me shocked, saddened, and outraged. These types of weapons are banned by international law because they represent an intolerable barbarianism.”

Many members of the international community have condemned the attacks and demanded the Syrian government be charged with war crimes. French President Francois Hollande announced, “once again the Syrian regime will deny the evidence of its responsibility for this massacre.” The UN has previously tried to take action against Assad and the Syrian government, but Russia vetoed the measures. Many in the international community are blaming Russia for enabling the attack. British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft announced, “I call on the Security Council members who have previously used their vetoes to defend the indefensible to change their course.” However, Russia denies Assad’s involvement in the bombing and instead blames Syrian rebels for attacking the area, despite the rebel’s control of the city.

Questions still remain on how the world will respond to the attack. How many are dead? Who is responsible? How should the UN respond? Still, one fact remains clear. This was a brutal and barbaric use of force that must be strongly condemned. The international community cannot be silent against this violence. This attack is a war crime and violates basic human rights and must be treated as such. The pain and suffering of the people in Idlib cannot be forgotten or erased, like so many other attacks before them.

Kathleen Stone

I am currently a student at Bates College studying sociology and education.

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