Israeli leaders called for the international community to take action Tuesday after a gas attack in Syria killed at least 58 people and injured over 200, many of them children.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “sharply condemned” the attack and called on the international community to complete the process of removing all of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.
“When I saw pictures of babies suffocating from a chemical attack in Syria, I was shocked and outraged. There’s no, none, no excuse whatsoever for the deliberate attacks on civilians and on children, especially with cruel and outlawed chemical weapons,” he said in English at a memorial service for president Chaim Herzog.
Netanyahu also said the lack of action proved the international community was not to be trusted to come to Israel’s aid.
“This terrible war underlines our main imperative– we will always defend ourselves with our own strength, against any enemy and any threat,” he said.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett called on Netanyahu to convene an emergency meeting of the security cabinet in order to discuss the regional impact of the chemical weapons attack and the “ongoing systematic genocide” in Syria, according to his spokesperson.
“The use of chemical weapons against civilians requires Israel’s security cabinet to rethink its stance,” Bennett said in a statement.
He also called on US President Donald Trump to lead an international effort to stop the “chemical massacre.”
“Children are choking to death. The world MUST ACT against the chemical massacre in Syria. I call upon President Trump to lead this effort,” he wrote on Twitter.
Bennett did not specify against whom any form of action should be taken.
Children are choking to death.
The world MUST ACT against the chemical massacre in Syria.
I call upon President Trump to lead this effort. pic.twitter.com/IQKrHpOH29
— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) April 4, 2017
The Syrian Coalition, an opposition group based outside the country, said government planes carried out the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, south of the city of Idlib, the provincial capital.
The Britain-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the warplanes released “toxic gas” in the town but could not confirm the nature of the material. A British doctor at the scene tweeted that the chemical released was sarin gas.
Rights groups have long accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of deploying chemical weapons against his own citizens, leading to an agreement in 2013 for Syria to destroy its chemical weapon stockpile, under threat of US bombardment.
There was no comment from the government in Damascus or its allies Russia or Iran on the attack.
Israel has taken pains to stay out of the Syrian civil war, though it has reportedly carried out a series of airstrikes in the country to thwart weapons transfers to the Hezbollah terror group, fighting alongside Assad’s forces. The country has also not taken in any Syrian refugees, though it has treated thousands of wounded who make it across the border into the Golan Heights.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, whose plan to bring in 100 Syrian orphan refugees was reportedly scrapped in February, called on his own government to take action.
“Israel is only democracy in the region. It must lead action to put an end to this terrible massacre,” he wrote on Facebook.
Others pointed to the UN for failing to take action against Syria while being focused on Israeli wrongdoings.
Likud minister-without-portfolio Ayoub Kara accused the United Nations of “egregious” hypocrisy for failing to take action against chemical weapons attack in Syria while condemning Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.
“Human beings, among them women and children, are murdered in a chemical attack in Syria and the voice of the UN falls quiet. Where is the UN secretary general who condemns [Israel’s] intention to build homes for Jews evacuated from their homes?,” Israel National News quoted him as saying.
“The time has arrived for the UN to do some soul searching and to take action for the purposes for which it was founded,” he added.
Science Minister Ofir Akunis said sarcastically that he wanted “to see how quickly there would be international condemnation, an emergency session of the General Assembly of the UN, after the intolerable human tragedy in Syria.”
Former general and Zionist Union MK Eyal Ben-Reuven said the chemical attack on a rebel-held village in northern Syria was a “blatant” violation of past agreements reached between the Assad regime and the US government on Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
In a statement, Ben-Reuven called for Israel to join international efforts in preventing chemical warfare.
“Israel must work with Russia, the US and the UN in working toward the complete elimination of chemical weapons,” he said.
Fellow Zionist Union MK and former defense minister Amir Peretz wrote on Twitter that “we cannot overlook chemical weapons used against civilians in Idlib. The US & international community must immediately stop the bloodshed.”
Meretz party leader Zehava Galon wrote on Facebook that the attack shows that the Assad regime believes it has an “open check” from the international community to use chemical weapons.
“The latest attack in Syria and the increase in the rise in the use of chemical weapons show that Assad learned from the silence of the international community that he has an open check and has no problem using it,” she said.
Photos and video emerging from Khan Sheikhoun showed limp bodies of children and adults. Some are seen struggling to breathe; others appeared to be foaming at the mouth.
The nature of the substance used in the attack has yet to be confirmed,
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the deaths of 11 children from chemical exposure, but footage posted on Twitter showed some 20 young children lying motionless in a room.
Hours after the attack, a rocket slammed into a hospital as doctors treated victims, destroying part of the building, an AFP correspondent said. The projectile brought down rubble on top of medics as they struggled to deal with victims of the attack.
A January report drafted by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons determined for the first time that Assad and his younger brother Maher were tied to several chemical weapons attacks carried out in the country in 2014 and 2015.
In February, Human Rights Watch accused the Syrian government of conducting at least eight chemical attacks using chlorine gas on opposition-controlled residential areas during the final months in the battle for Aleppo last November and December.
Assad has claimed the bombings were to protect the Syrian people from rebels, whom he labels terrorists.
Agencies contributed to this report.