Israeli intelligence believes Assad behind chemical attack

West condemns Tuesday’s attack that killed dozens in rebel-held Idlib province; Trump calls it ‘an affront to humanity’

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)

Israeli military intelligence believes Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces were behind the suspected chemical attack that killed at least 72 civilians, defense officials said Wednesday.

The officials said that Israel believes Assad has tons of chemical weapons currently in his arsenal. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as they are not allowed to brief media.

Other countries also blamed Assad’s regime for the attack, which took place in Khan Sheikhun in the rebel-held Idlib province.

US President Donald Trump denounced the attack. “These are very troubled times in the Middle East,” he said as he welcomed King Abdullah II of Jordan to the White House on Wednesday.

He called the attack a “horrible thing, unspeakable” and added, “It’s a terrible affront to humanity.”

Asked how he planned to respond to the attack, which he blamed on Assad, Trump said, “You’ll see.”

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley lashed out at Russia for failing to rein in its ally Syria.

“How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” Haley told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. “If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have, we need to see them use it. We need to see them put an end to these horrific acts.”

Doctors Without Borders said that its team had found victims showing symptoms consistent with toxins such as sarin gas after the attack.

The team saw victims at the Bab al-Hawa hospital, 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of the attack, the charity said in a statement Thursday.

“Eight patients showed symptoms –- including constricted pupils, muscle spasms and involuntary defecation -– which are consistent with exposure to a neurotoxic agent such as sarin gas or similar compounds,” the statement said.

The teams reported smelling bleach at other hospitals treating victims, suggesting they were also exposed to chlorine gas. The organization said the reports “strongly suggest that victims… were exposed to at least two different chemical agents.”

Matthew Rycroft, Britain’s UN ambassador, said that the attack “bears all the hallmarks” of Assad’s regime and the United Kingdom believes a nerve agent capable of killing over a hundred people was used.

“We are talking about war crimes here, war crimes on a large scale, war crimes with chemical weapons,” French Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters as he entered the council chamber.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also blamed the attack on the Syrian regime and accused the world of not speaking out against it.

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it opposed a Western draft UN resolution condemning the attack on the grounds that there was no proof Assad was behind the attack. The ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said the draft blamed the Syrian government for Tuesday’s attack without any credible investigation.

Syria’s army has denied any use of chemical weapons, saying it “has never used them, anytime, anywhere, and will not do so in the future”.

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon called the attack “evil incarnate.”

“The use of chemical weapons and the appalling murder of innocent children are evil incarnate,” he said Wednesday. “The Security Council must use all its authority to put an end to the situation in Syria.”

He also called on the international community to take immediate action.

“The world must not remain silent in the face of crimes against humanity,” he said. “The international community should act immediately to stop the ongoing massacre of civilians.”

Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of Syria’s civil war, with the UN blaming three attacks on the Syrian government and a fourth on the Islamic State group.

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