Yad Vashem head: Syria gas attack shows failure of post-Holocaust institutions

Ahead of Remembrance Day for WWII genocide, Avner Shalev says ‘wild attack on civilians’ proves international bodies’ impotence in preventing such occurrences

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev addresses the audience at an event in Jerusalem on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Screen capture: Facebook)
Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev addresses the audience at an event in Jerusalem on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Screen capture: Facebook)

The chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum on Tuesday condemned an alleged chemical strike on a Syrian rebel-held town by President Bashar Assad’s regime, calling it a “wild attack on civilians” and charging that international organizations established after World War II to prevent a second Holocaust have failed.

“We all read [reports] and were deeply troubled by the gas attack in Syria in the last few days, a wild attack on civilians, women and children, with very many killed,” Avner Shalev said during a conference at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is being held in Israel beginning Wednesday evening.

“This, again, shows what we unfortunately already know — a sort of ongoing failure by organizations and apparatuses established by the international community after World War II and the Holocaust,” Shalev declared. “Some of them have failed, they don’t function well enough, they haven’t managed to prevent, react and reduce such phenomena.

“We need to remind ourselves constantly that we should do everything possible so that these tools function effectively, including in this case in Syria,” he added.

On Monday, Israel accused Syria of committing “crimes against humanity” in its attack on rebel-held Douma over the weekend.

“Israel strongly condemns the chemical weapons strike carried out by Syria on April 7, one year after the mass murder carried out by the regime in Khan Sheikun,” a Foreign Ministry statement said, referring to a widely condemned chemical attack on a rebel-held town in April of last year.

Medical workers treating toddlers following an alleged poison gas attack in the opposition-held town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria, Sunday, April. 8, 2018 (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

“The Syrian regime continues to perpetrate crimes against humanity in using these outlawed weapons,” it said.

The statement said the attack “joins a long series of similar attacks using chemical weapons perpetrated by the regime since Assad undertook to disarm from such weapons.”

“The attack shows clearly that Syria continues to possess lethal chemical weapons capabilities and even to manufacture new ones,” the statement said. “In so doing Syria is grossly violating its obligations and the decisions of the international community in this matter.”

Saturday’s suspected poison gas attack took place in the rebel-held town of Douma amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces, after the collapse of a truce. At least 40 people were reportedly killed, including children, and hundreds of others were said to have been injured.

Opposition-linked first responders, known as the White Helmets, said entire families were found suffocated in their homes and shelters. The group said 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.

US President Donald Trump on Monday called the attack “heinous” and promised a decision on what response to take will be made by the end of the day. He later vowed a “forceful” response.

France, which has repeatedly said evidence of chemical use in Syria could prompt military action, responded to the attack by calling for an urgent UN Security Council meeting on Monday.

The request was signed by eight other UN Security Council members including the US and Britain, while Russia asked for a separate Security Council meeting to discuss global threats to peace.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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