Israeli officials on Sunday called on the international community to intervene in Syria, where rebel forces said the regime killed dozens in an alleged chemical attack in Douma and a series of airstrikes over the weekend.
Speaking to Army Radio, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the security cabinet and the ruling Likud party, urged US and international military action.
“This is a shocking thing that we all need to condemn it,” Erdan said. “I hope that the American and international presence there will intensify, otherwise the genocide there will only expand.”
Douma, the last opposition holdout in Eastern Ghouta, was pounded by renewed airstrikes that killed 70 civilians in around 24 hours, while 11 people also suffered breathing problems. First responders have accused forces loyal to President Bashar Assad of using poisonous chlorine gas to attack the area, which lies northeast of the capital Damascus.
Opposition-linked first responders, known as the White Helmets, reported the attack, saying entire families were found suffocated in their homes and shelters. It reported a death toll from suffocation of more than 40, saying the victims showed signs of gas poisoning including pupil dilation and foaming at the mouth. In a statement, however, it reported a smell resembling chlorine, which would not explain the described symptoms, usually associated with sarin gas.
It said around 500 people were treated for suffocation and other symptoms, adding that most medical facilities and ambulances were put out of service because of the shelling.
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid on Sunday condemned the attack.
“The use of chemical weapons against civilians is immoral, illegal and inhuman. The world cannot stand by while the Assad regime and its allies carry out these brutal attacks. Words aren’t enough, the international community must take action,” he wrote on Twitter.
Leader of Israel’s opposition Zionist Union party Avi Gabbay also urged the international community to act against Syria, singling out Russia for backing the regime and berating the US for remaining “silent.”
“Pain and shock accompany the images from Douma,” Gabbay tweeted. “When the leader of a minority sect [Assad, of the Alawite community] bombs his people with chemical weapons in front of the entire world, with the backing of one of the [global] powers, and the silence of the United States, we recall the words of the sages, “If I am not for myself, who is for me?'”
Gabbay was quoting the renowned adage of 1st century BCE Jerusalem sage Hillel who said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
The United States had earlier on Sunday strongly condemned the alleged chemical weapons attack, saying that if it was proved, Russia would bear some responsibility due to its “unwavering support” for the regime.
Russia has been providing military and diplomatic support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad as it battles to suppress an insurgency now in its eighth year.
Other Israeli lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle, joined the chorus for the world to intervene in Syria on Sunday morning.
“The international community cannot turn a blind eye to the horrific use of chemical weapons on civilians in Syria. These atrocities should be stopped!” tweeted Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni.
Yehudah Glick, of the ruling Likud party, posted a video clip that appeared to show piled bodies of civilians, including several children and a baby, inside a residential building.
“What can be said?” Glick tweeted. “The world must do everything to stop the Assad regime. The man has no limits.”
Opposition activists in Douma posted photographs of people wearing gas masks and saying that government forces were shelling the town with poison gas. State media denied the reports, saying “such farces about chemical weapons” were triggered by the troops’ quick push toward Douma.
Government forces resumed their offensive on rebel-held Douma on Friday afternoon after a 10-day truce collapsed over disagreement regarding evacuation of opposition fighters. The violence resumed days after hundreds of opposition fighters and their relatives left Douma toward rebel-held areas in northern Syria.
The Syrian regime has been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons, with the United Nations among those blaming government forces for a deadly sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun in April 2017.
Since February 18, the regime’s Ghouta offensive has killed more than 1,600 civilians.