WASHINGTON — Doctors Without Borders said today that their specialists who treated victims of the Khan Shaykhun, Syria, gas attack noted evidence of two different chemical substances, including symptoms consistent with exposure to sarin.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today the death toll in what activists are calling Black Tuesday rose to “at least” 72, including 20 children and 17 women. The UK-based monitoring group warned “the death toll may rise because there are tens of injured persons in addition to… missing people” after the airstrikes.
About 300 were injured, according to the health directorate in Idlib. One hospital treating the wounded and a Syrian Civil Defense emergency services center were subsequently rocked by airstrikes a few hours later. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is already working to verify what kind of agent may have been dropped from the warplanes.
Medecins San Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, said “a number of victims of the attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun were brought to Bab Al Hawa hospital, which is located 100km north, near the Turkish border.”
“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 group said. “The MSF team provided drugs and antidotes to treat patients, and protective clothing for medical staff in the hospital’s emergency room.”
“MSF medical teams were also able to visit other hospitals where victims of the attack were being treated, and reported that victims smelled of bleach, suggesting they had been exposed to chlorine,” added the statement. “These reports strongly suggest that victims of the attack on Khan Sheikhoun were exposed to at least two different chemical agents.”
At a joint press conference on Capitol Hill today, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and committee member Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who have teamed up on legislative efforts to counter the Assad regime, slammed the Syrian leader’s “latest atrocity.”
Cardin said the Syrian gas attack was committed by “Russian aircraft piloted by an Assad pilot,” and the substance dropped had an effect “that reminds us of sarin.”
“We need to get him indicted,” Cardin said. “President Assad must be held accountable for these war crimes.” He noted that in a UN Security Council emergency meeting today Ambassador Nikki Haley was “having difficultly getting Russia to allow anything through.”
Because Russian President Vladimir Putin “has clearly been facilitating” Assad’s actions as well as using Russia’s veto power to run interference for his ally, Putin “needs to be investigated for culpability as a war criminal,” he added, stressing “it’s time that we meant it” when we say “never again.”
Rubio said he feared “we’ve reached the point where we’re desensitized” by these “outrageous,” grisly attacks; the two senators propped up large photos of children harmed in the gas attack. “This is a government using nerve agents against civilians, against its own people,” he added, stressing that Americans should care for national security reasons and because “this is who we’ve been for over two centuries, people who care about this sort of thing.”
“As long as Bashar Assad is in Syria there will be radical elements in Syria,” Rubio noted, underscoring that battered civilians will accept anyone with guns to try to stop Assad’s attacks.
“Anyone who tries to cover for him, they are at a minimum accomplices in war crimes,” he added, reiterating “Putin a war criminal who is assisting another war criminal.”
If the United States does not act, Rubio said, “we have lost our compass as a people and as a nation.”
Asked why Assad felt emboldened to use chemical weapons now, Rubio theorized it’s “because international blowback means you get a really nasty letter” and “he’s willing to risk a few bad articles” to continue the slaughter as he believes “there will be no price to pay in the short term for acting with impunity.”
The U.S., Britain and France introduced a UNSC resolution demanding a full investigation into the attack, but Russia protested before the meeting that the text was “anti-Syrian” and “categorically unacceptable.”
“How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” Haley said.