EU says ‘evidence points’ to chemical attack by Syria regime

Bodies of victims of alleged chemical attack lie on the ground in rebels-held Douma, Syria, 8 April 2018. [Emad Aldin/EPA/EFE]

The EU said Sunday that evidence suggested the Syrian regime carried out a chemical attack in Douma and urged Damascus’s allies Russia and Iran to help prevent another one.

The European Union’s diplomatic arm said it condemns “in the strongest terms” the use of chemical weapons and called for an “immediate response” from the international community.

“The evidence points towards yet another chemical attack by the regime,” the European External Action Service (EEAS) said, referring to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“We call on the supporters of the regime, Russia and Iran, to use their influence to prevent any further attack and ensure a cessation of hostilities,” in line with UN Security Council resolution 2401, it said.

The Ghouta offensive has been one of the deadliest in Syria’s seven-year-long war, killing more than 1,600 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The monitoring group said it could not confirm whether chemical weapons had been used in the attack on Saturday.

Medical relief organization SAMS said a chlorine bomb hit Douma hospital, killing six, and a second attack with “mixed agents”, including nerve agents, had hit a nearby building.

Basel Termanini, the U.S.-based vice president of SAMS, told Reuters another 35 people, most of them women and children, had been killed at a nearby apartment building.

SAMS and the civil defense said medical centers had taken in more than 500 people suffering breathing difficulties, frothing from the mouth and smelling of chlorine.

Tawfik Chamaa, a Geneva-based Syrian doctor with the Syria-focused Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), a network of Syrian doctors, said 150 people were confirmed dead and the number was growing. “The majority were civilians, women and children trapped in underground shelters,” he told Reuters.

The EU has joined others in the international community to express outrage over the alleged chemical attack that left dozens dead in Syria’s rebel-held town of Douma.

US President Donald Trump has warned there would be a “big price to pay”.

The EU said it was “highly regrettable” that Russia vetoed in November the extension of a panel that the UN Security Council set up in 2015 to determine who was behind an earlier suspected chemical attack.

“The EU calls upon the UN Security Council to rapidly re-establish this (joint investigative) mechanism to identify perpetrators of chemical attacks,” the statement said.

It recalled that in June 2017 and March this year, the EU had imposed additional sanctions on senior officials and scientists linked to suspected chemical weapons use in Syria.

“It is a matter of grave concern that chemical weapons continue to be used, especially on civilians,” the EU statement said, referring to a similar attack nearly a year ago.

Sarin was detected in an April 2017 attack on the northwestern town of Khan Sheikhun that killed more than 80 people. The agent was released after an air strike.

The EU will make sure that those responsible for chemical attacks “are held accountable,” according to the statement by an EESS spokesman.

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