UN Summit on Idlib chemical attack. The West accuses Assad. Moscow exonerates him

The latest death toll speaks of 72 dead, including 20 children, hundreds wounded. London, Washington and Brussels accuse the regime in Damascus, guilty of "war crime". For Russia it is a chemical factory of the rebels was hit. Sources tell AsiaNews: "Prudence" in judgments and "thorough check" of the facts, in a context of "war of propaganda and information".


Damascus (AsiaNews) - The UN Security Council is meeting today for an emergency summit which will discuss yesterday’s chemical attack in Idlib, city controlled by the rebels in the northwest of Syria, which caused dozens of deaths and injuries among civilians. The international community has reacted indignantly to the raid, with unanimous and harsh condemnation led by the European Union, the United States, Israel and Britain. Damascus has vehemently denied the use of chemical weapons and Moscow, an ally of the Syrian government, has given a different version of the facts that exonerate the Assad regime.

Church sources contacted by AsiaNews in Syria call for "prudence" and advocate a "thorough fact check" to ascertain the truth. Even in the past, the source added, there have been attacks that have raised indignation and condemnation, but "they never clarified responsibilities with certainty " in the context of a growing "war of propaganda and information".

The updated death toll provided London based NGO Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, close to the rebels and backed by the Saudis,  speaks of 72 dead, including 20 children; hundreds injured. First, to report the "chemical attack" yesterday, the group adds that "there are also 17 women among the victims" and the number "may rise again" because there are "missing."

Dramatic images of the attack are circulating on social networks: men, women and children are vomiting and foaming at the mouth as a result of the use of chemical and toxic agents. According to reports from the area controlled by the rebels, and difficult to independently verify, the Syrian air force also targeted hospitals where affected civilians were hospitalized. Today the site "Shaam", close to the opposition, spoke of chlorine bombs; the healthcare professionals on the ground  report effects caused by sarin gas. Both are banned by international conventions.

In the hours after the attack the Western governments and Israel accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the government, calling it a veritable "war crime". The attack has also cast a shadow on the ongoing meeting in Brussels on Syria, which sees the presence of 70 donor countries engaged in the collection and distribution of humanitarian aid to the local population and the refugees who had fled across the border to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Since March 2011, the date of beginning of the conflict, more than five million people have crossed the borders of the Arab country and have registered as refugees in neighboring countries. At least 400 thousand are victims of the violence, which forced nearly half the population to flee their homes. EU estimates report that 13.5 million Syrians need humanitarian assistance in the country.

To respond to the attack yesterday, France and the United Kingdom have requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. For the London representative of the United Nations Matthew Rycroft the incident is "very bad news" for hope "for peace in Syria". He speaks of "war crime" and hopes that, this time, some allied nations Damascus [Moscow laws, although in the past as well as China was opposed to condemnation] "resolutions do not use the veto to defend the indefensible" .

The US president Donald Trump called the attack "a despicable act" of the Assad government and the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke of "barbarism." There was greater prudence from the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, who he described the story as "horrible", but hoped at the same time for "a clear identification of responsibilities" and that the perpetrators be brought to justice.

Moscow, an ally of Damascus, has provided a new version of the facts based on "data bases monitoring the airspace" to exonerate, at least in part, the Syrian government. The Russian Defense Ministry speaks of a governmental aviation airstrike that hit a chemical factory used by insurgents in Khan Sheikhoun. The explosions released toxic substances in the area, which then caused victims among the civilian population of the area. The factory housed a "laboratory" for the realization of "bombs with toxic substances". Moscow has not clarified whether the deposit was hit deliberately or accidentally.

It is not the first time that chemical weapons have been used in the context of the Syrian conflict. In 2013 the government and rebels exchanged accusations and responsibility for attacks with chemical agents. The United Nations has opened several investigations following complaints of gas use, both from the regular army and rebel militias. The last of these dates back to August, when UN experts have denounced the use of chlorine gas on "at least two occasions" by the government army. Allegations that were rejected by the Damascus government.