UN to discuss Syria chemical attack

2017-04-04 22:30
Members of the civil defence spray and clean areas near Baghdad that may have been contaminated in a chemical attack carried out by ISIS. (Marwan Ibrahim, AFP)

Members of the civil defence spray and clean areas near Baghdad that may have been contaminated in a chemical attack carried out by ISIS. (Marwan Ibrahim, AFP)

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New York - The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss a suspected chemical attack in Syria that has left dozens dead and fanned global outrage over the six-year war.

Britain and France called for the urgent meeting following reports of the strike on a rebel-held town in northwestern Idlib province early on Tuesday that they blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Syrian attack

US Ambassador Nikki Haley, who holds the council presidency this month, announced the meeting would be held to discuss the "terrible chemical weapons attack in Syria".

The council will hear a briefing and "we are hoping to get as much information on the Syrian attack as we can", Haley said.

The attack on the town of Khan Sheikhun killed at least 58 civilians and left dozens more suffering from respiratory problems and symptoms including vomiting, fainting and foaming at the mouth, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

At least 11 children were among the dead, the Observatory said. An AFP correspondent in Khan Sheikhun saw many kids on respirators as they were treated for breathing problems.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is "deeply disturbed" by the attack, his spokesperson said, adding that the United Nations was "currently not in a position to independently verify these reports."

The Syrian army denied any involvement, while the army command blamed rebels.

Used their vetoes

Britain and France said they hoped to press demands at the Security Council for those behind the use of toxic gas in the six-year war to be held accountable.

Such attempts have been repeatedly blocked by Russia, Syria's main ally and a veto-wielding council member.

"This is clearly a war crime," British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters.

"I call on the Security Council members who have previously used their vetoes to defend the indefensible to change their course."

Russia and China in February vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have imposed sanctions on Syrians accused of being behind chlorine gas attacks on villages in 2014 and 2015.

A UN-led investigation concluded in October that the Syrian air force had dropped chlorine barrel-bombs from helicopters on three opposition-held villages in 2014 and 2015.

Alarming and disturbing

The council on Wednesday will hear from Virginia Gamba, the head of the investigative panel, and top UN disarmament official Kim Won-soo, on details of the attack including whether deadly sarin gas was used.

"The perpetrators must be held accountable. We need to address this issue at the Security Council, as soon as possible," said French Deputy Ambassador Alexis Lamek.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the reports were "extremely alarming and disturbing" and noted that a team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was gathering information to determine whether chemical weapons were in fact used.

"Any use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security and is a serious violation of international law," he said.

Read more on:    un  |  syrian observatory for human rights  |  antonio guterres  |  bashar al-assad  |  us  |  syria  |  syria conflict

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