Dozens Killed in Syria Gas Attack; Trump Blames Obama's Red Line
WASHINGTON -- A new apparent chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians prompted lawmakers to criticize the Trump administration for days ago demoting the priority of unseating Bashar al-Assad, while the White House blamed the Obama administration for not enforcing the chemical weapons red line in 2013.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said they have documented at least 58 deaths, including 19 children and 13 women, from the Khan Shaykhun area of southern Idlib after warplanes bombed civilians "with material believed to be gases which caused suffocation and other symptoms, like intense breathing secretion, iris shrinkage, general spasm." Video posted by Dr. Shajul Islam, a UK-trained physician administering humanitarian assistance in northern Syria, showed chaos unfolding in his emergency room:
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.
Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said the UN leader was "deeply disturbed" by the reports and "recalls that the Security Council previously determined that the use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security and, that it affirmed that the use of chemical weapons constitutes a serious violation of international law." The UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday morning.
French President Francois Hollande quickly blamed Assad for the "massacre," slamming the "complicity" and "moral responsibility" of his "allies." British Prime Minister Theresa May, in Saudi Arabia, said “we cannot allow this suffering to continue.”
“I’m very clear that there can be no future for Assad in a stable Syria which is representative of all the Syrian people,” May said. “And I call on all the third parties involved to ensure that we have a transition away from Assad.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson noted, "Bombing your own civilians with chemical weapons is unquestionably a war crime and they must be held to account.”
Israel's minister of education and leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett called on President Trump to lead the response, tweeting a photo of children's bodies with the message: "Children are choking to death. The world MUST ACT against the chemical massacre in Syria. I call upon President Trump to lead this effort."
Trump's initial response came in an afternoon statement released by the White House.
"Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution," Trump said. "President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a 'red line' against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack."