A suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Syria’s Idlib province has drawn widespread international condemnation, with the United Nations saying it will investigate the bombing raid as a possible war crime.
At least 72 people, including 11 children, were killed in Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday, according to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which runs several field hospitals in the area. More than 550 people were injured.
SAMS doctors on the ground said the attack caused people to vomit and foam from the mouth. Others lost consciousness and suffered muscle spasms.
The group said the symptoms, which also included constricted pupils and slow heart rate, were indicative of an organo-phosphorus compounds agent – a category of toxic gases which includes sarin.
“We were affected by the gas. We couldn’t stand up,” Veda Ajej, one of the victims treated in a hospital in the Turkish town of Reyhanli, near the Syria border, told the Reuters news agency.
“I felt dizzy and nauseous,” she said, lying in a hospital bed. “I couldn’t breathe.”
Local health workers said the death toll could rise and eventually reach 100. A member of the White Helmets, a rescue group that operates in rebel-held areas, told Al Jazeera that up to 300 people had been injured.
The Syrian National Coalition, an opposition group, said a gas similar to sarin was used in the attack, which it blamed on government planes.
Syria’s military rejected the accusation, saying in a statement that the army “denies using any toxic or chemical agents in Khan Sheikhoun today, and it did not and never will use it anywhere”.
Russia, a staunch ally of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, on Wednesday said Syrian aircraft had carried out a raid, but the chemicals were part of a “terrorist” stockpile of “toxic substances” that had been hit on the ground.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “deeply disturbed” by the attack, his spokesman said, adding that the world body was “currently not in a position to independently verify” the reports of use of chemical weapons.
An emergency Security Council meeting was scheduled for Wednesday. The United States, Britain and France proposed a Security Council resolution that diplomats said would be likely to be put to a vote.
The draft text, seen by Reuters, says Syria’s government must provide an international investigation with flight plans and logs for Tuesday, the names of all helicopter squadron commanders and provide access to air bases where investigators believe attacks using chemicals may have been launched.