EU says Assad regime responsible for ‘awful’ Syria gas attack
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EU says Assad regime responsible for ‘awful’ Syria gas attack

France calls for emergency meeting of UN Security Council; Erdogan tells Putin use of chemical weapons endangers peace talks

An unconscious Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017. (AFP/Omar Haj Kadour)
An unconscious Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017. (AFP/Omar Haj Kadour)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The regime of Bashar Assad bears “primary responsibility” for a suspected chemical attack that killed at least 58 people in a rebel-held town in Syria, EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said Tuesday.

“Today the news is awful,” Mogherini said in an interview with media organizations in Brussels on the sidelines of a EU-UN conference that was meant to focus on the post-conflict situation in Syria.

“But this is a dramatic reminder that the situation on the ground continues to be dramatic in many parts of Syria,” Mogherini said.

“Obviously there is a primary responsibility there of the regime because it has responsibility of protecting its people not attacking its people.”

Following the attack, France called an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

Illustrative: The UN Security Council meeting on December 31, 2016, at the UN Headquarters in New York. (AFP/Kena Betancur)
Illustrative: The UN Security Council meeting on December 31, 2016, at the UN Headquarters in New York. (AFP/Kena Betancur)

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described the attack as “monstrous” and added: “I have called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.”

Ayrault said “chemical weapons” had been used in the attack and that it was “more proof of the savagery that the Syrian people have been subjected to for so many years.”

The attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun left dozens struggling to breathe and displaying symptoms such as foaming at the mouth and vomiting and fainting, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A hospital in the town where doctors were treating victims of the attack was also bombarded, an AFP correspondent said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call that the chemical weapons attack was “inhuman” and could endanger peace talks based in the Kazakh capital.

“President Erdogan said that this kind of inhuman attack was unacceptable and warned it risked wasting all the efforts within the framework of the Astana process” to bring peace to Syria, presidential sources said.

The sources did not indicate who was to blame for the attack, describing it as a “chemical weapons attack directed at civilians.”

Syrian mourners pray next to bodies lying in the back of a pick up truck outside a makeshift morgue following reported air strikes by government forces in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, on April 3, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Abd Doumany)
Syrian mourners pray next to bodies lying in the back of a pick up truck outside a makeshift morgue following reported air strikes by government forces in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, on April 3, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Abd Doumany)

Turkey has been a major foe of the Assad regime in Syria throughout the Syrian civil war, repeatedly accusing Damascus of war crimes.

But in the last months Ankara has deepened ties with Assad’s ally Russia, co-brokering a ceasefire that until now had drastically reduced the levels of violence.

Russia’s military said its planes did not carry out any strikes near Khan Sheikhun.

“Planes of the Russian air force have not carried out any strikes near Khan Sheikhun of Idlib province,” said a statement by the Russian defense ministry.

The chief negotiator for the Syrian opposition told AFP that “calls the political process into question.”

“If the United Nations cannot deter the regime from carrying out such crimes, how can it achieve a process that leads to political transition in Syria?” said Mohamad Sabra, the head negotiator for the main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) that participated in recent peace talks in Geneva.

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