Idlib, death toll from gas attack. War (of words) between Moscow and Washington
The updated toll rises to 86 dead, including 30 children and 20 women. A figure set to rise again. Moscow considers the draft condemnation formulated by the Western bloc to the UN Security Council "unacceptable". The US president speaks of "affront to humanity." He adds: "My position on Syria has changed."
Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The updated death toll from the "chemical" attack against Khan Sheikhoun town in Idlib province, controlled by the rebels in the northwest of Syria, has risen to 86 dead according to the London based NGO Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group which is close to the rebels and backed by the Saudis was the first to "denounce" the controversial raid on 4 April that has triggered a "war of words" between the US and Russia.
Yesterday evening Observatory sources reported that there are also "30 children and 20 women among the victims." The figure, the sources said, looks set to rise further in the coming days due to the critical condition of some of the wounded.
Doctors operating in the area say that the symptoms shown by patients are similar to those that occur in the event of attacks using chemical weapons; among these are the dilated pupils, convulsions and foaming from the mouth.
The attack has provoked a wave of international outrage: several Western countries have openly accused the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad. Damascus has strongly rejected any wrongdoing claiming they have not used chemical weapons in military operations carried out in these days.
The clash between the various factions is also taking place at a diplomatic level, within the United Nations Security Council. Moscow yesterday described a draft resolution condemning the attack made by the United States, France and the United Kingdom as "unacceptable". The US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, said that Washington is considering "unilateral actions" in case of United Nations inaction.
Last week the United States had said that removing Assad was no longer "a priority." The chemical attack seems to have changed the scenario despite the doubts surrounding the real responsibility for the attack. Condemning the military action Donald Trump spoke of "affront to humanity" for killing "innocent children" means having "crossing ... many lines." "My position towards Syria - added the occupant of the White House - has changed a lot... We are talking about a whole different level." Asked about any changes in American policy toward Damascus, he ended with a cryptic: "You will see."
At the same time, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Russia to "think carefully" about its continued support for President Assad. The US Vice-President Mike Pence added that "all options are on the table" and may be used with regard to Syria.
Moscow has confirmed the air strike took place in recent days, although - according to the Kremlin - the toxic gas (believed to be Sarin) was leaked from a chemical factory used by insurgents to produce weapons to use in Iraq.
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that "the text submitted [to the UN] is categorically unacceptable" because "anti-Syrian" in all its aspects. "It anticipates - she adds - the results of an investigation and immediately indicates the culprit. Damascus is portrayed as guilty. "
According to Zakharova the initiative of Western governments to the Security Council shows the their goal of "overturning" the political situation in Syria and that Moscow "does not see any pressing need to pass a similar resolution at this time."
Also yesterday, meanwhile, the two-day meeting ended in Brussels that saw 70 donor countries of Syria. After the meeting, however, overshadowed by the chemical attack in Idlib, the international community committed to six billion dollars in aid for 2017 to the Syrian population and refugees. Christos Styliandide, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, spoke of a huge" figure and a "tangible sign of our solidarity."