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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    US special forces troops Mosul Iraq ISIS

    BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Ayad al-Jumaili, believed to be a deputy of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in an air strike on Friday, an Iraqi intelligence spokesman said on Saturday.

    The U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition said it was unable at the moment to confirm the information that was reported earlier in the day by Iraqi state-run TV.

    Jumaili was killed with other Islamic State commanders in a strike carried out by the Iraqi air force in the region of al-Qaim, near the border with Syria, a military intelligence spokesman told Reuters.

    "The air force's planes executed with accuracy a strike on the headquarters of Daesh in al-Qaim .. resulting in the killing of Daesh's second-in-command...Ayad al-Jumaili, alias Abu Yahya, the war minister," state TV said earlier, citing a statement from the directorate of military intelligence.

    Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, have been battling since October to retake the city of Mosul, Islamic State's last major stronghold in Iraq and the city where Baghdadi declared a caliphate nearly three years ago.

    Nearly 290,000 people have fled the city to escape the fighting, according to the United Nations.

    Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters stand with their weapons north of Raqqa city, Syria March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said

    Former Saddam official

    U.S. and Iraqi officials believe Baghdadi has left operational commanders with diehard followers to fight the battle of Mosul, and is now hiding out in the desert with senior commanders.

    A separate battle is in preparation in Syria to drive Islamic State from its stronghold there, the city of Raqqa.

    The Iraqi state TV report is the first by an official media to announce the death of Jumaili, who was an intelligence officer under Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president toppled in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

    Jumaili led Islamic State's top security agency in Iraq and Syria, known as Amniya, answering directly to Baghdadi, according to experts.

    Although the loss of Mosul would effectively end Islamic State's territorial rule in Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi officials are preparing for the group to go underground and fight an insurgency like the one that followed the U.S.-led invasion.

    The last official report about Baghdadi was from the Iraqi military on Feb. 13. Iraqi F-16s carried out a strike on a house where he was thought to be meeting other commanders, in western Iraq, near the Syrian border, they said in a statement.

    More than 40 leading members of the group have been killed in coalition air strikes, according to experts. Baghdadi has not officially appointed a successor. 

    (Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli Editing by Ralph Boulton)

    SEE ALSO: 'A blessing from Allah': ISIS is optimistic about a Trump presidency

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    putin rouhani

    Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, will meet for the eighth time in four years from March 27 to 29. According to the Tehran Times, both sides are “preparing more than ten documents for signing” on various economic and political issues.

    The meeting, set in Moscow, highlights the debate surrounding the real nature of post-Cold War relations between Moscow and Tehran.

    According to Western — particularly neoconservative — strategists, there is a way to stop Russian-Iranian military cooperation in Syria. Along with the Israeli right wing, they believe that while Iran and Russia form a united front against overthrowing Bashar al-Assad, they do not see eye to eye on a diplomatic solution to end Syria’s civil war.

    For its part, Iran favours an alliance with the Lebanese Hezbollah and Shia militias largely made up of Pakistani, Afghan and Iraqi fighters. These non-government military groups fought on the ground to recapture Aleppo, a city emblematic of the revolt against the Syrian government.

    In November 2016, military groups allied with Iran and the Syrian governments suffered between ten and 15 fatal casualties every day, according to personal interviews I conducted with French military officials at that time.

    Russia, on the other hand, is keen to preserve Syrian state institutions and does not support the Shiite religious proselytism of some of these military groups, such as the Hezbollah and Shia militias.

    Russia wants to remain a major player in Syria

    But does that spell the end of the Russian-Iranian post-Cold War understanding? Several factors tend to suggest otherwise.

    According to Middle East experts I met in Moscow last February, Russia has no interest in being a junior partner to the US in the war against Islamic State. And it’s keen to maintain a partnership with Tehran in which it appears as the dominant power.

    Since the Soviet-Afghan War of the 1980s, Tehran and Moscow have a shared distrust of Western powers and their possible links with rebel Sunni Islamist groups.

    Russia Syria_Mill

    And Russia is sceptical of a Trump administration that is already proving unpredictable. The consequence is likely to be a continuation of the Russian diplomatic strategy of entente with all countries in the region – Iran, Israel, and the Gulf’s oil-rich kingdoms.

    Russia will no doubt continue to leverage its relationship with Iran in its dealings with Washington to obtain concessions, such as the easing of economic sanctions targeting Moscow since the annexation of Crimea.

    To be able to do so, it must reinforce and develop its cooperation with Iran, both in the region (fighting against “terrorism”) and in crucial strategic areas, such as civil nuclear activities. Russia is currently helping Iran build two new reactors for the Bushehr nuclear power plant on the Iranian gulf coast. And it has provided its S-300 anti-aircraft system to the country.

    Faced with a Trump administration that appears anxious to drive a wedge between its Iranian and Russian rivals, Russia is more likely to take up the position of mediator it held during tensions between Iran and the West during George W. Bush’s presidency (2000-2008).

    Russia had then opposed both American threats to use force against Tehran in order to solve the nuclear question and Washington’s policy of unilateral sanctions against Iran. What has changed since Russia decided on military intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015, is a bilateral effort between Russia and Iran to fight “terrorism” – Sunni jihadist groups, especially those Tehran labels takfiri (those who excommunicate other Muslims).

    A new Middle East driven by Russia?

    Above and beyond a circumstantial deepening of ties arising from the emergence of a new Middle East, Russian military presence in Syria has led these two countries into a new military alliance against Sunni jihadists. But the Russian military intervention in Syria also represents a challenge to Iranian military doctrine on regional security.

    Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, which created a government centred around a religious power, Tehran has insisted on the need for Western Asian countries (the Iranian name for the Middle East) to reject all military interference from powers outside the region.

    Putin Assad

    Iranian diplomats often make a distinction between so-called independent states, such as Iran, Russia and China, and those subservient to the United States, such as the oil-rich kingdoms of the Persian Gulf. Russian military intervention in Syria then constitutes a challenge to Iran, which opposes the international system dominated by major powers.

    When Russia revealed in August 2016 that its armed forces had used the Noje airbase, just outside Hamadan in Iran, it provoked a controversy in the Islamic Republic as the country’s constitution prohibits the establishment of military bases on Iranian soil by foreign powers.

    The chairman of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, specified that the Russian air force only used the base temporarily, in order to bomb “terrorists” in Syria.

    Despite the inherent limits of an asymmetrical partnership between a world power and a regional one, the Iranian political elite must be given their due for transforming the old Russian enemy into a partner, a feat which the Iranian communists from the Tudeh party failed to achieve in the time between the end of the second world war and their exit from the Iranian political stage in 1983.

    SEE ALSO: Russia and Iran are closer than ever before — and their military alliance keeps expanding

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    Donald Trump

    (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court said on Monday it would hold a hearing in May over a Hawaii federal judge's order that blocked President Donald Trump's revised travel restrictions on citizens from six Muslim-majority countries.

    The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously upheld a Seattle judge's block of Trump's first travel order. The appeals court did not say on Monday which three judges would preside over the latest appeal.

    Trump signed the revised ban last month, in a bid to overcome legal problems with his January executive order that caused chaos at airports and sparked mass protests before its enforcement was halted in February.

    Trump has said the travel ban is needed for national security.

    The state of Hawaii challenged the revised travel directive as unconstitutional religious discrimination. Hawaii and other opponents of the ban claim it is based on Trump's election campaign promise of "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

    The Justice Department has also appealed a ruling from a Maryland judge against Trump's revised executive order. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia scheduled a hearing in that case for May 8.

     

    (Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Peter Cooney)

    SEE ALSO: Hawaii judge extends temporary restraining order against Trump's revised travel ban

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    Refugee Camp Rashidin Idlib Syria

    BEIRUT — A suspected chemical attack in a town in Syria's northern Idlib province killed dozens of people on Tuesday, Syrian opposition activists said, describing the attack as among the worst in the country's six-year civil war.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group put the death toll at 58, saying 11 children were among the dead. The Idlib Media Center said dozens of people had been killed.

    The media center published footage of medical workers appearing to intubate an unresponsive man stripped down to his underwear and hooking up a little girl foaming at the mouth to a ventilator.

    There was no comment from the government in Damascus or any international agency in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

    It was the third claim of a chemical attack in just over a week in Syria. The previous two were reported in Hama province, in an area not far from Khan Sheikhoun, the site of Tuesday's reported attack.

    The Syrian American Medical Society, which supports hospitals in opposition-held territory, said it had sent a team of inspectors to Khan Sheikhoun before noon and an investigation was underway.

    The Syrian activists had no information on what agent could have been used in the assault. They claimed the attack was caused by an airstrike carried out by either the Syrian government or Russian warplanes.

    A Turkey-based Syrian woman whose niece, husband, and 1-year-old daughter were among those killed said the warplanes struck early, as residents were still in their beds, she said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she feared for the safety of family members back in Syria. Makeshift hospitals soon crowded with people suffocating.

    The province of Idlib is almost entirely controlled by the Syrian opposition. It is home to some 900,000 displaced Syrians, according to the United Nations. Rebels and opposition officials have expressed concerns that the government is planning to mount a concentrated attack on the crowded province.

    Tuesday's reports came on the eve of a major international meeting in Brussels on the future of Syria and the region hosted by the EU's High Representative Federica Mogherini.

    Claims of chemical weapons attacks, particularly the use of the chlorine agent, are not uncommon in Syria's conflict. The worst attack was what a UN report said was an attack by toxic sarin gas in August 2013 on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta that killed hundreds of civilians.

    The Syrian Coalition, an opposition group based outside the country, said government planes carried out the airstrike on Khan Sheikhoun, south of the city of Idlib, the provincial capital.

    It said the planes fired missiles carrying poisonous gases, killing dozens of people, many of them women and children. The coalition described the attack as a "horrifying massacre."

    Photos and video emerging from Khan Sheikhoun show limp bodies of children and adults. Some are seen struggling to breathe; others appear foaming at the mouth.

    A medical doctor going by the name of Dr. Shajul Islam for fears for his own safety said his hospital in Idlib province received three victims, all with narrow, pinpoint pupils that did not respond to light. He published video of the patients on his Twitter account.

    Pinpoint pupils, breathing difficulties, and foaming at the mouth are symptoms commonly associated with toxic gas exposure.

    The opposition's Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, which released photos showing paramedics washing down victims, has not published a casualty toll.

    The activist-run Assi Press published video of paramedics carrying victims from the scene by a pickup truck. The victims were stripped down to their underwear. Many appeared unresponsive.

    The New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused the Syrian government of conducting at least eight chemical attacks using chlorine gas on opposition-controlled residential areas during the final months in the battle for Aleppo last year that killed at least nine civilians and injured 200.

    Also, a joint investigation by the United Nations and the international chemical weapons watchdog determined the Syrian government was behind at least three attacks in 2014 and 2015 involving chlorine gas and the Islamic State group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas.

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    mccain

    Republican Sen. John McCain tore into Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday morning, telling CNN that Tillerson's recent comments about the US's policy in Syria represented "another disgraceful chapter in American history."

    Tillerson told reporters while he was in Turkey last week that the "longer-term status of President [Bashar] Assad will be decided by the Syrian people."

    The remark signaled a shift in the US's official position toward the Syrian strongman. Though they were criticized for failing to act against Assad, President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry had long called for Assad to step down in a monitored transition of power.

    The US's ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, took an even stronger position than Tillerson, telling reporters that the administration's "priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out."

    Haley's comments stood in stark contrast to those of the previous UN ambassador, Samantha Power, who directly confronted Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies during a UN Security Council meeting in December with a fierce address.

    "Three member states of the UN contributing to a noose around civilians. It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you," Power said at the time. "You are plotting your next assault. Are you truly incapable of shame?"

    In a press conference four months later, Haley told reporters that the Trump administration thought Assad was "a hindrance." She added that she believed he was a war criminal.

    "Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No," she said. "You pick and choose your battles."

    A senior administration official described Haley's comments as "a measure of just realism, accepting the facts on the ground,"according to Reuters.

    The apparent shift comes as dozens of people reportedly were killed in an attack on Tuesday when a hospital that was treating civilians injured in chemical attacks was bombed. Activists described the attack as among the worst in the country's six-year war.

    putin assad

    Some experts said Tillerson's and Haley's comments would be music to the ears of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who intervened in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Assad in late September 2015.

    McCain, a Republican foreign-policy hawk who has called for a US military intervention in Syria, said Tuesday that he was sure Russia "took note of what our secretary of state said just the other day."

    "One of the more incredible statements I've ever heard," he told CNN.

    When asked what he thought of US President Donald Trump's foreign-policy doctrine, McCain said, "I don't see any doctrine right now."

    Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has similar foreign-policy views, said in a statement last week, "If the press reports are accurate and the Trump administration is no longer focusing on removing Assad, I fear it will be the biggest mistake since President Obama failed to act after drawing a red line against Assad's use of chemical weapons."

    The Obama administration's failure to enforce the "red line" it drew for intervention in Syria against Assad in 2012 has become arguably the biggest stain on the former president's foreign-policy legacy. Kerry acknowledged in December that the failure to follow through on the threat to retaliate against Assad for his use of chemical weapons to kill 1,500 people in August 2013 damaged the US's reputation in the region.

    Obama opted instead for a deal brokered by Russia to ship Assad's chemical weapons stockpile out of Syria and destroy them. The US hailed the deal as a success, but Assad has evidently retained some of the weapons he promised to destroy. Syrian activists have reported three chemical attacks in the last week alone, according to The Associated Press, including the attack on Tuesday.

    Watch McCain's remarks:

    SEE ALSO: We now have a better idea who's behind 'unmasking' Trump officials' contact with foreign agents — and why

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    Syria Idlib gas attack Assad civil war victim

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - A suspected Syrian government chemical attack killed at least 58 people, including 11 children, in the northwestern province of Idlib on Tuesday, a monitor, medics and rescue workers in the rebel-held area said.

    A Syrian military source strongly denied the army had used any such weapons.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack, believed to have been carried out by Syrian army jets, caused many people to choke, and some had foam coming out of their mouths. All the children were under the age of eight.

    "This morning, at 6:30 a.m., warplanes targeted Khan Sheikhoun with gases, believed to be sarin and chlorine," said Mounzer Khalil, head of Idlib's health authority. The attack had killed more than 50 people and wounded 300, he said.

    "Most of the hospitals in Idlib province are now overflowing with wounded people," Khalil told a news conference in Idlib.

    The air strikes that hit the town of Khan Sheikhoun, in the south of rebel-held Idlib, killed at least 58 people, said the Observatory, a British-based war monitoring group.

    Warplanes later struck near a medical point where victims of the attack were receiving treatment, the Observatory and civil defense workers said.

    The civil defense, also known as the White Helmets — a rescue service that operates in opposition areas of Syria — said jets struck one of its centers in the area and the nearby medical point.

    It would mark the deadliest chemical attack in Syria since sarin gas killed hundreds of civilians in Ghouta near the capital in August 2013. Western states said the Syrian government was responsible for the 2013 attack. Damascus blamed rebels.

    Military denies

    The Syrian military source on Tuesday denied allegations that government forces had used chemical weapons.

    Syria civil defense civilian gas attack civil war victim

    The army "has not and does not use them, not in the past and not in the future, because it does not have them in the first place," the source said.

    A series of investigations by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found that various parties in the Syrian war have used chlorine, sulfur mustard gas and sarin.

    A joint U.N.-OPCW report published last October said government forces used chlorine in a toxic gas attack in Qmenas in Idlib province in March 2015. An earlier report by the same team blamed Syrian government troops for chlorine attacks in Talmenes in March 2014 and Sarmin in March 2015. It also said Islamic State had used sulfur mustard gas.

    The OPCW had no immediate comment on Tuesday.

    France called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting about Tuesday's suspected attack. Turkey, which backs the anti-Assad opposition, said the attack could derail Russian-backed diplomatic efforts to shore up a ceasefire.

    Putin Assad

    "A new and particularly serious chemical attack took place this morning in Idlib province. The first information suggests a large number of victims, including children. I condemn this disgusting act," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

    Reuters photographs showed people breathing through oxygen masks and wearing protection suits, while others carried the bodies of dead children, and corpses wrapped in blankets were lined up on the ground.

    Activists in northern Syria circulated pictures on social media showing a purported victim with foam around his mouth, and rescue workers hosing down almost naked children squirming on the floor.

    Most of the town's streets had become empty, a witness said.

    Ceasefire

    Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said 15 people, mostly women and children, had been brought into Turkey.

    An official at the Turkish Health Ministry had said earlier that Turkey's disaster management agency was first "scanning those arriving for chemical weapons, then decontaminating them from chemicals" before they could be taken to hospitals.

    Syria Turkey Turkish medic gas attack civil war

    The conflict pits President Bashar al-Assad's government, helped by Russia and Iranian-backed militias, against a wide array of rebel groups, including some that have been supported by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.

    The Russian Defence Ministry said on Tuesday that Russian planes had not carried out air strikes on Khan Sheikhoun.

    Syrian and Russian air strikes have battered parts of Idlib, according to the Observatory, despite a ceasefire that Turkey and Russia brokered in December.

    Jets also struck the town of Salqin in the north of Idlib province on Tuesday, killing eight people, the monitor said.

    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the suspected attack, Turkish presidential sources said. They said the two leaders had also emphasized the importance of maintaining the ceasefire. Turkey's foreign minister called the attack a crime against humanity.

    The European Union's top diplomat Federica Mogherini said: "Obviously there is a primary responsibility from the regime because it has the primary responsibility of protecting its people."

    Toxic arsenal

    Idlib province contains the largest populated area controlled by anti-Assad rebels - both nationalist Free Syrian Army groups and Islamist factions including the former al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

    Idlib's population has ballooned, with thousands of fighters and civilians shuttled out of Aleppo city and areas around Damascus that the government has retaken in recent months.

    U.S. air strikes since January have also hit several areas in the rural province where jihadists have a powerful presence.

    syria assad chemical WEAPONS

    Following the 2013 attack, Syria joined the international Chemical Weapons Convention under a U.S.-Russian deal, averting the threat of U.S.-led military intervention.

    Under the deal, Syria agreed to give up its toxic arsenal and surrendered 1,300 tonnes of toxic weapons and industrial chemicals to the international community for destruction.

    U.N.-OPCW investigators found, however, that it continued to use chlorine, which is widely available and difficult to trace, in so-called barrel bombs, dropped from helicopters.

    Although chlorine is not a banned substance, the use of any chemical is banned under 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Syria is a member.

    Damascus has repeatedly denied using such weapons during the six-year war, which has killed hundreds of thousands and created the world's worst refugee crisis.

    (By Ellen Francis; additional reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut, Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam, Ercan Gurses and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Daren Butler in Istanbul, Robin Emmott in Brussels, John Irish in Paris; editing by Tom Perry and Alison Williams)

    SEE ALSO: Dozens of people reported dead in suspected chemical attack in Syria

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    Anne-Marie Slaughter is a former State Department official and author of "The Chessboard and the Web". Slaughter has famously spoken out against how the US has handled Syria. In this clip she explains the biggest mistake that was made and where things stand now.

    Less than two weeks after this discussion, a suspected Syrian government chemical attack killed at least 58 people, including 11 children.

    Following is a transcript of the video.

    Anne-Marie Slaughter: The biggest mistake we made was not understanding right away, early on, that a ruler who was prepared to torture children and prepared to shoot unarmed people was going to stop at nothing and that if we did not draw a line and stick to it, he would destroy his country to stay in power, that's exactly what he's done and we did not stop him. We could have early on. We could have, once he used chemical weapons, we could have taken a strike. He concluded we would do nothing and he has destroyed his country and he's destabilized the region and we're going to deal with the ramifications of this for decades. 

    Sara Silverstein: Is there anything we can do now to better the situation?

    Anne-Marie Slaughter: I mean, stopping the fighting at any point will help. I mean, at this point, regardless of what I think we should have done, whatever, right now, I'll cut whatever deal I have to cut to get this fighting to end. And that will help but it will be, to say fragile peace — it will be essentially kind of freezing everybody in place and it's going to take generations because you have tens of millions of Syrians who are displaced, who — they're going to look at us and think "oh yeah, that's the country that set aside Moscow and did nothing."

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    Donald Trump Barack Obama

    President Donald Trump released a statement Tuesday blaming a chemical attack in Syria on Obama administration's policies.

    Dozens of people were reportedly killed on Tuesday when a hospital treating civilians injured in chemical attacks was bombed. Activists described the attack as among the worst in the country's six-year war.

    "Today's chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world," Trump said in a statement. "These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution."

    Trump cited President Barack Obama's inaction after issuing a "red line" in 2012 that suggested that the US would intervene militarily if the Assad regime used chemical weapons.

    When evidence emerged that Syrian forces did use chemical weapons to attack civilians, the US declined to use military action in retaliation, instead opting to broker a deal in which the Assad regime agreed to remove chemical weapons from Syria.

    "President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a 'red line' against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing," Trump said. "The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack."

    But it doesn't appear that the Trump administration is planning to urge Assad to step down. And Trump didn't seem to want Obama to enforce the red line at the time, tweeting in 2013, "AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA — IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!"

    US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters while he was in Turkey last week that the "longer-term status" of Assad would "be decided by the Syrian people." And US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told reporters that the Trump administration's "priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out."

    The remark signaled a shift in America's official position on the Syrian strongman. Though they were criticized for failing to act against Assad, Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry had long called for Assad to step down in a monitored transition of power.

    Tillerson released his own statement on the chemical attack on Tuesday, saying the US "strongly condemns" such actions.

    "While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal, unabashed barbarism," Tillerson said in the statement, which stopped short of calling on him to leave power.

    Tillerson instead shifted responsibility to Russia and Iran, two of Assad's biggest allies, saying they "bear great moral responsibility for these deaths."

    "Those who defend and support him, including Russia and Iran, should have no illusions about Assad or his intentions," Tillerson said in the statement. "Anyone who uses chemical weapons to attack his own people shows a fundamental disregard for human decency and must be held accountable."

    Tillerson called on Russia and Iran to "exercise their influence over the Syrian regime and to guarantee that this sort of horrific attack never happens again."

    Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report.

    SEE ALSO: 'One of the more incredible statements I've ever heard': John McCain rips Tillerson's shift on Syria

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    afp assad says trump a natural ally if he fights terrorThe EU has reasserted that Bashar al-Assad has no future in Syria, just days after the Trump administration said his departure was no longer a priority for settling the conflict.

    Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, said after six and a half years of war it was completely unrealistic to believe that the future of Syria would be exactly the same as its past.

    The EU wanted “a meaningful and inclusive transition in Syria” open to Syrians from all backgrounds, she said. “It is for the Syrians to decide, but for all Syrians.”

    The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, was more specific: “France does not believe for an instant that this new Syria can be led by Assad.”

    The EU has reasserted that Bashar al-Assad has no future in Syria, just days after the Trump administration said his departure was no longer a priority for settling the conflict.

    Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, said after six and a half years of war it was completely unrealistic to believe that the future of Syria would be exactly the same as its past. The EU wanted “a meaningful and inclusive transition in Syria” open to Syrians from all backgrounds, she said. “It is for the Syrians to decide, but for all Syrians.”

    French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault attends a joint news conference with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (not in picture) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Beijing, China, October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

    The French foreign minister, , was more specific: “France does not believe for an instant that this new Syria can be led by Assad.”

    Inside Syria, 13.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. An additional 5 million are refugees in neighbouring countries, while a further 1.2 million have fled to Europe.

    In a letter to the Guardian, more than 80 parliamentarians have warned the EU against jumpstarting a large-scale reconstruction programme without a consensus-based political settlement. Such an approach “could become an implicit endorsement of Assad’s control over Syria and hence a betrayal to the aspirations of large parts of Syria’s civil society” the cross-party group of parliamentarians write.

    “The EU should now leverage its role as the largest financial donor, to demand a say in any negotiations on the political transition and the future of Syria.”

    The letter echoes warnings from Syrian NGOs, who fear that premature reconstruction could lend unwitting support to Assad.

    “The EU has leverage, there should be a clear and just criteria for funding projects,” said Fadi Hallisso, co-founder of a relief and development group based in Lebanon. The EU “card of reconstruction and funding can be played once and then you lose it”, he said, calling on foreign actors to back a government that would guarantee justice for all Syrians.

    syrian refugees

    Hallisso was speaking at the launch of a Syrian civil society advocacy alliance, We Exist, which seeks to strengthen the voice of NGOs in talks on the country’s future. He said he feared that a push for reconstruction would obscure the plight of Syrian refugees, many of whom are stuck in limbo without education or work. “Improvement on these files is much more important than reconstruction and much more urgent.”

    Oussama Jarrousse, who co-founded Citizens for Syria, said talk about reconstruction was a big distraction. “We still have active conflict, we still have clashes every day, we still have airplanes bombing, we have a very fluid situation with Isis controlling part of Syria. There is a huge humanitarian crisis and the economy has been shattered.”

    But while reconstruction was “a big distraction” he said efforts were needed to maintain institutions so Syria did not go further down the road of becoming a failed state.

    SEE ALSO: ISIS spokesman says the US is 'being run by an idiot' in first statement on Trump

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    Crater Airstrike Idlib Syria

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Warplanes mounted five air strikes on Wednesday in a rebel-held area of northwestern Syria where dozens of people were killed the day before in a suspected chemical attack, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

    The Syrian army could not immediately be reached for comment on the reported air strikes in town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on Wednesday. An Observatory report did not identify the warplanes.

    The United States has blamed the chemical attack on Syrian government forces. The army has denied any role.

    Russia's defense ministry said on Wednesday that poisonous gas contamination in the area was the result of gas leaking from a rebel chemical weapons depot after it was hit by Syrian government air strikes.

    The Observatory said the chemical attack was carried out by warplanes believed to belong to the Syrian military.

    (Writing by Tom Perry. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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    A civil defence member breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017.

    Britain's foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, on Wednesday said all evidence suggested the government of President Bashar Assad was behind the deadly chemical attack in Syria on Tuesday.

    "All the evidence I have seen suggests this was the Assad regime ... using illegal weapons on their own people,"Johnson told Sky News.

    He called the attack, which is believed to have injured hundreds and killed more than 50 people, including many children, a "barbaric act."

    Assad's regime has denied any involvement in the attack.

    Johnson also said those responsible should be held accountable and he could not picture a Syrian future with Assad in power.

    "This is a barbaric regime that has made it impossible for us to imagine them continuing to be an authority over the people of Syria after this conflict is over," Johnson said on arrival at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels.

    British Prime Minister Theresa May echoed the foreign secretary's sentiments. May said she was "appalled" by reports of the attack, according to AFP. "We condemn the use of chemical weapons in all circumstances," May said, adding, "I'm very clear that there can be no future for Assad in a stable Syria ... We cannot allow this suffering to continue."

    The attack took place Tuesday in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. The number of casualties is still unclear as different organisations have been reporting conflicting numbers.

    Syria Idlib gas attack Assad civil war victim

    The head of the health authority in Idlib province told Reuters more than 50 people had been killed and 300 wounded. The Union of Medical Care Organizations said the death toll was at least 100.

    The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that following new airstrikes on the town on Wednesday, the attack had killed at least 72 people, including 20 children.

    The initial attack caused many of the victims to choke and some to foam at the mouth and convulse.

    Earlier, Johnson, who is in Brussels for a Syrian aid conference, said in a statement that the incident bore the "hallmarks of an attack by the regime, which has repeatedly used chemical weapons."

    Moscow on Wednesday said the Syrian airstrike had hit a "terrorist warehouse" containing "toxic substances.""According to the objective data of the Russian airspace control, Syrian aviation struck a large terrorist warehouse near Khan Sheikhun," the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.

    If confirmed, this would be the deadliest chemical attack in Syria since sarin gas killed hundreds of civilians near Damascus in 2013. Syria's civil war has been raging for six years and has killed almost half a million people and displaced close to half of the country's population.

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    syria chlorine gas attack

    Mohamed Tennari, a medical doctor, was visiting an electronics repair shop in the northwestern Syrian village of Sarmin to have a broken internet router fixed. The store was owned by family friend Waref Taleb. Tennari left the router with Taleb and returned the following day to collect it. Taleb did not charge him for the fix. These were the last exchanges the two Syrian friends would ever have.

    The next time Tennari saw Taleb was on March 16, 2015, a month or two later, following a chlorine chemical attack in Sarmin. This time, though, Taleb was on an operation table in the emergency room of the Sarmin field hospital.

    Tennari rushed into the emergency room to see Taleb, who was coughing, choking, foaming at the mouth, and barely clinging to life. That night, a helicopter had dropped a barrel bomb containing chlorine that exploded on Taleb's home. 

    "We couldn't help him because he inhaled a lot of chlorine," Tennari, 36, recalled, who has been working as a doctor in Syria since 2007.

    Taleb's family scrambled into their basement to hide. The noxious gas seeped into the ventilation ducts of their house and killed Taleb and his entire family - his mother, wife, Ala'a Alajati, and their three children Aisha, three, Sarah, two, and Muhammad, one.

    Patients were in chairs, on the ground, on the floor- everywhere. We didn't have enough time to stay with one patient.

    "They all died. It was so bad that we couldn't save them," he added. "[Taleb] was my friend and it was so sad."

    Tennari suspected it was the Syrian regime that dropped the toxic gas cannister. He estimated that he and his staff treated about 120 patients who had been exposed to chlorine that night. The Taleb family, however, were the only casualties.

    "They were in the basement and the chemical material was going down. People must go high. Because they were in the basement they really got a lot of this material, the chemical material."

    Tennari described Taleb as a family man.

    "He was friendly, quiet, [a] good person," he said. "He had a nice family. He loved his family."

    On the anniversary of Taleb's death two years later, that night of chaos and terror still gives the Syrian doctor chills. "Helicopters were in the sky at all times and we hear sound at all times and we didn't know what second they would attack the hospital," Tennari said in between heavy sighs.

    "We didn't know what to do. Patients were in chairs, on the ground, on the floor- everywhere. We didn't have enough time to stay with one patient. I was going from one patient to another patient every minute. It was so noisy."

    This is a fleeting, but not uncommon snapshot of the destructive role chlorine attacks have played - and the fear the chemical has sown - in the country's civil war, which enters its seventh year this week.

    Syria civil defense civilian gas attack civil war victim

    Chemical weapons have been a recurring footnote in the bloody narrative of Syria's civil war, which has robbed hundreds of thousands of lives, and displaced roughly 11 million more. But amid this troubling saga of chemical weapons use in Syria, it has been sarin nerve gas, and to a lesser extent mustard gas, that have punctuated this ongoing storyline.

    Following the 1,300 tonnes of sarin nerve gas and its precursors being removed from Syria, chemical attacks persist there nearly four years later, but most notably in the form of chlorine, which has emerged as the most heavily used chemical weapon in the war.

    "We saw chlorine appearing as a weapon in Syria for the first time in 2014," said Ole Solvang, the deputy director of the emergencies division at Human Rights Watch.

    "The challenge is there are so many horrific things going on in Syria, that this one issue tends to perhaps be overshadowed sometimes by other attacks that are going on."

    In February, Human Rights Watch and Solvang authored a report documenting at least eight instances of chlorine use by the Syrian regime in the battle for Aleppo between Nov. 17 and Dec. 13, 2016. The human rights watchdog verified the attacks through video footage analysis, phone, and in-person interviews, as well as by social media.

    The report indicated that the chlorine attacks killed at least nine people, including four children, and injured around 200 people. The attacks, according to the report, constituted war crimes.

    "This is, of course, horrific because it is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria is a part of," Solvang explained. "It's horrific for the victims, but also because it really undermines one of the strongest bans on any weapon in international humanitarian law and what we're really concerned about is that the government's continued use of chemical attacks will undermine this ban and lower the threshold for other countries to also use it [chlorine]."

    The Chemical Weapons Convention, which came into effect in 1997, is the first international treaty to prohibit the use, development, production, stockpiling and transport of chemical weapons. It is enforced by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an independent and international treaty-based organisation.

    Following the sarin gas attack in Ghouta in August 2013 that killed more than 1,000 people - more than 400 of them children - according a United Nations Security Council report, Syria joined the convention as part of an international agreement - and to subdue the Obama administration's threats of military action. It was the 190th country to sign on.

    So to what role has chlorine played in Syria's complex and long civil war? And what has been the human toll?

    Chlorine is heavier than air so it sinks into those basements, so those basements can become death traps.

    Human Rights Watch have documented 24 chlorine attacks in Syria since 2014, of which 32 people were killed and hundreds were injured. However, Solvang acknowledged that this is likely a grave underestimate.

    "It's a terrifying weapon to most people," Solvang said.

    Chlorine is a choking agent. Its greenish-yellow clouds of gas cause shortness of breath, wheezing, respiratory failure, irritation in the eyes, vomiting, and sometimes death.

    Chlorine's effects are also largely psychological: the chemical triggers fear, shock, and panic in a way that other conventional weapons don't. In the case of Aleppo, Solvang suspects the regime strategically used chlorine to force a mass exodus of the city.

    "Places that were relatively safe suddenly were not safe any more when chlorine started being used," Solvang said. "When people were trying to hide and shelter from explosive weapons, regular rockets and bombs - they would go into a basement because that's the safest place to be. Chlorine is heavier than air so it sinks into those basements, so those basements can become death traps."

    Syria Idlib gas attack Assad civil war victim

    Solvang's statement, echoed the way in which the Taleb family died in Sarmin: overexposure to chlorine gas after mistaking their cellar as a safe haven.

    "It is definitely very scary if you are a physician in a small hospital with dozens or hundreds of patients that are suffocating and you don't know what to do with all of that," said Zaher Sahloul, a former president of Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), who is originally from Homs, but who now practices in Chicago.

    SAMS has also closely monitored chlorine attacks in Syria. The medical organisation has documented 109 chlorine attacks since the civil war began in 2011.

    "The main reason chlorine was used in Syria was to cause panic and to force people to flee. And that's what it really did in most of the instances," Sahloul added.

    Sahloul, a pulmonary specialist, attended medical school with President Bashar al-Assad between 1982 and 1988 at Damascus University. He knew Assad personally.

    "[Assad] was collegial, humble and talkative," Sahloul recalled of his former classmate turned president, who he now accuses of war crimes.

    "No one expected him to oversee the destruction of his country, target hospitals and doctors and use extreme brutality against civilians including torture, siege, collective punishment, and chemical weapons."

    syria

    Chlorine was first used as a weapon by the Germans on French, British, and Canadian troops in World War I on the battlefield in Ypres. A decade later, the Geneva Protocol of 1925, the first constructive international laws banning the use of chemical weapons, was introduced.

    But despite its deadly effects, chlorine isn't classified in the same league as sarin or mustard gas. It exists in somewhat of a grey zone under today's international laws and is only regarded as a chemical weapon when it's used maliciously. Chlorine's complicated status on the spectrum of chemical weapons raises tough questions about the definitions of chemical warfare.

    For instance, why are some lethal chemicals internationally prohibited, while others aren't?

    "The difference between chlorine and sarin is [that] chlorine is readily available," Sahloul explained. "Chlorine is used for many other beneficial ways, to clean water and so forth, in many industries but that's why the Syrian regime has been using it because it's easily done and weaponised easily."

    Tens of millions of tonnes of chlorine are produced around the world each year. It's usedto disinfect water supplies, in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, antiseptics, and drugs, in textile industries, the bleaching of paper, in the separation of metals such as gold, nickel, and copper from their ores, as well as such household chemicals like adhesives.

    Its widespread industrial use makes controlling and regulating its use as a weapon all the more problematic, which has allowed its use to persist in Syria's civil war.

    bashar al-assad

    "Chlorine is used on a daily basis in all countries. It can be easily produced, in all of our countries, [regardless] of the development of the country, the materials are available," said Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the Netherlands-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international organisation that verifies the destruction of existing global stockpiles of chemical weapons.

    "It creates panic, of course, and terror especially among civilians [but] the difficulty to eradicate it - it's not declarable - so we cannot ask state parties to declare the chlorine stocks," added Uzumcu. "I believe that it is very difficult to contain it." 

    I want him [Assad] to see the faces of the children who woke up choking in the middle of the night

    The OPCW, which led a fact-finding mission in 2014 to investigate chlorine attacks in Syria, were unable to confirm to Al Jazeera the exact numbers of confirmed attacks, but a press release on the missions stated there was "compelling" evidence that chlorine was used "systematically and repeatedly".

    Kelsey Davenport, the director nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, a non-profit organisation that promotes public understanding of arms control policies in Washington, DC, also echoed Sahloul and Uzumcu's assertions on the problematic nature of containing chlorine as a chemical weapon.

    "Chlorine is particularly a problem because it has so many uses for industrial purposes that don't have anything to do with weaponisation," she said.

    "It can be very easy for organisations to get their hands on chlorine and the necessary ingredients to create chlorine gas, using sort of other mechanisms or justifications for industrial purposes. That makes it much more difficult to control and much more difficult to prevent groups from using," Davenport added.

    The precarious situation on the ground makes is even more difficult, if not impossible for governments and NGOs, to verify each attack, and who exactly is on the delivering end: the regime, rebel forces, or ISIL.

    syria aleppo chlorine gas

    Last August, the UN-led a joint investigation in Syria to pinpoint who is responsible for the flurry of reported chlorine attacks. The UN examined nine cases of alleged chemical weapons attacks. They found what they described as "sufficient evidence" of three instances of chemical weapons attacks between 2014 and 2015. Two of these were chlorine gas attacks on civilians by the Syrian air force. Another was a sulphur mustard gas attack by the Islamic State.

    "It's hard - it's impossible to use the word 'verifiable'," said Paul Walker, a chemical weapons expert and Director of Green Cross International's Environmental Security and Sustainability programme.

    Walker attributed the contrasting numbers of chlorine attacks recorded by NGOs, media, and governmental bodies like the UN to the dangerous conditions on the ground in Syria.

    "By looking at newspaper reports, you know there's an average alleged attack with chlorine probably every month and probably for the last several years," he said. "A ballpark figure is a dozen [chlorine attacks] a year. And I think that's a gross underestimate because it's very difficult to verify these attacks when you can't get to the site in a reasonable amount of time, you can't gather forensics, [and] you can't necessarily interview victims."

    In response to the UN joint investigation, the United States imposed sanctions on 18 Syrian military officials in January, according to a Treasury Department statement.

    Young, displaced children from Syria sit in a bus as they arrive at a refugee camp at Kokkinotrimithia, outside Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017.

    And just last month, the US, France, and Britain drafted a UN Security Council resolution that would have imposed further sanctions on Syrian military officials over the alleged use of chlorine. However, Russia and China vetoed it.

    Prior to the veto, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2209 on March 6, 2015, condemning the use of chlorine attacks in the civil war, threatening to take Chapter VII action – which could include sanctions and ultimately military force – if the attacks continue. But that was two years ago; the attacks have persisted, UN sanctions have fallen flat, and the international community hasn't been able to effectively halt Assad's regime or the rebels' use of chlorine.

    With the emergence of the US President Donald Trump's administration, which seems open to allowing Russia, Syria's ally, operate more freely in the country, Assad's regime appears more insulated than ever. Military escalation against Assad, or the possibility his regime will be charged with war crimes in an international criminal court, at least in the near future, seems unlikely.

    "The people and physicians, especially in Syria gave up on this issue," said Sahloul, the Chicago-based SAMS doctor, who has testified on chlorine attacks before the UN Security Council and the US House Foreign Relations Committee.

    Sahloul is frustrated by the international community's perceived indifference - and its inability - to solve the chlorine problem, and he, too, is sceptical anything will be accomplished in the near future to hold Assad's regime accountable.

    "There was a lot of effort that at one point to document all of these issues," he added. "There were testimonies in the [UN] Security Council, there were resolutions, there were attributions, and then investigation teams, and then nothing happened. I think at this point, people gave up on Syria and talking about these issues."

    Instead, Sahloul, appealed directly to Assad, his former classmate, to end the brutality of chlorine chemical attacks once and for all.

    "I want him [Assad] to see the faces of the children who woke up choking in the middle of the night," he said, in reference to the chlorine attack that killed the Taleb family in Sarmin.

    I'm praying to not be in this situation again: to see a friend choking in front of me and I couldn't do anything.

    "I want him to imagine the panic in the faces of Taleb family in Sarmin [hiding] in a basement, when they were overwhelmed with the smell of bleach, and when their children - Aisha, Sarah, and Muhammad - started to suffocate; how they rushed to the field hospital and how they all ended up dead."

    For other Syrians, like Tennari, the Syrian doctor in Sarmin, who have seen the gruesomeness of a chlorine attack first hand, justice is already too late. Tennari still agonises over the loss of his friend Taleb, and his family, who were all killed by the toxic substance two years ago.

    "I'm praying to not be in this situation again: to see a friend choking in front of me and I couldn't do anything," said Tennari, who said he'll continuing practising in Syria as long as the civil war continues.

    "I'm so sorry that we couldn't help [the Taleb family]," Tennari said. "I feel bad all the time when I remember that we couldn't help them and they died. I feel weak because of that. I wish that nobody would be in my situation and see what I see. It's horrific. I wish this war will finish one day."

    Dorian Geiger is a Canadian journalist and an award-winning filmmaker based in Doha, Qatar and Queens, New York. He's a social video producer and a freelance features writer at Al Jazeera English. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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    Syria civil defense civilian gas attack civil war victim

    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States, Britain and France on Tuesday proposed a United Nations Security Council resolution to condemn a suspected deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria, which diplomats said would likely be put to a vote on Wednesday.

    The three countries blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces for the attack, which killed dozens of people. The Syrian military denied responsibility and said it would never use chemical weapons.

    U.N. Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura said the "horrific" chemical attack had come from the air.

    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.

    It asks U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report monthly on whether the Syrian government is cooperating with an international investigation and a fact-finding mission into chemical weapons use in Syria.

    The draft resolution "expresses its outrage that individuals continue to be killed and injured by chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, and expresses its determination that those responsible must be held accountable."

    It was not immediately clear how Russia, an ally of Assad, and China would view the move.

    In February, Russia, backed by China, cast its seventh veto to protect Assad's government from council action, blocking a bid by Western powers to impose sanctions.

    syria chlorine gas attack

    The Security Council is due to be briefed on the suspected toxic gas attack on Wednesday.

    An investigation by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, found Syrian government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015 and that Islamic State militants had used mustard gas.Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Moscow and Washington.

    The Security Council backed that deal with a resolution that said in the event of non-compliance, "including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone" in Syria, it would impose measures such as sanctions.

    The draft resolution proposed on Tuesday recalls that decision.

    The Hague-based OPCW set up fact-finding mission in 2014 to determine cases where chemical weapons had been used in Syria.

    The U.N. Security Council then established a joint team of U.N. and OPCW investigators in 2015 to assign blame in cases where the fact-finding mission had determined chemical weapons had been used.

    (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)

    SEE ALSO: Boris Johnson on Syria attack: 'All the evidence I have seen suggests this was the Assad regime'

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the International Arctic Forum in Arkhangelsk, Russia March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    Russia's government said Wednesday that the toxic gas that killed 83 people and wounded at least 150 in northern Syria the day before was released accidentally when a Syrian air strike hit a "terrorist warehouse" containing "toxic substances."

    "According to the objective data of the Russian airspace control, Syrian aviation struck a large terrorist warehouse near Khan Shaykhun that housed a warehouse making bombs, with toxic substances," the Russian defense ministry said in a statement.

    "The arsenal of chemical weapons" was destined for fighters in Iraq, the ministry added.

    Experts have cast doubt on Russia's explanation for Syria's worst chemical weapons attack since 2013, when Syrian President Bashar Assad — an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — is believed to have used sarin gas to kill as many as 1,400 people in the outskirts of Syria's capital, Damascus. Assad still denies responsibility for that attack.

    A civil defence member breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

    Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a chemical-weapons expert, told the BBC on Wednesday that Russia's claim was "fanciful" and that it would be "unsustainable" for a nerve agent like Sarin gas to spread as far as it did as the result of a bombing.

    Instead, the US has determined that Syrian warplanes dropped the chemical weapons, which caused injuries and deaths that the World Health Organization said were "consistent with exposure to organophosphorus chemicals, a category of chemicals that includes nerve agents."

    British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said"all the evidence I have seen suggests this was the Assad regime ... using illegal weapons on their own people."

    The commander of the Free Idlib Army rebel brigade, Hasan Haj Ali, told Reuters that "everyone saw the plane while it was bombing with gas."

    Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins, who has covered the Syrian civil war extensively, poured more cold water on the Russian claim early Wednesday morning.

    Higgins added that other images from the chemical attack were posted online at 2:28 a.m. ET, two hours before the air strike was said to hit the chemical warehouse, which Russia said occurred at 4:30 a.m. ET.

    The Conflict Intelligence Team, a nonprofit founded by Russian blogger and activist Ruslan Leviev to monitor the events in eastern Ukraine, added that while "Russian media did report repeated use of chemical weapons by rebels in Aleppo" in late 2016, "each time the weapon allegedly used was chlorine"— not sarin. The Assad regime has been accused of dropping chlorine bombs on civilians in Idlib province at least twice between 2014 and 2015.

    syria aleppo chlorine gas

    An 'infantile argument'

    Dan Kaszeta, a veteran of the US Army Reserve's Chemical Corps — the branch of the US Army responsible for protection against chemical, biological, and nuclear threats — further debunked Russia's claim.

    "To date, all of the nerve agents used in the Syrian conflict have been binary chemical warfare agents,"Kaszeta wrote on Bellingcat, adding that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspections after Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 "revealed a variety of fixed and mobile mixing apparatus for making binary nerve agents."

    The Assad regime began mixing the chemicals to create sarin in 2012, CNN reported at the time.

    "Even assuming that large quantities of both sarin precursors were located in the same part of the same warehouse (a practice that seems odd), an airstrike is not going to cause the production of large quantities of sarin," Kaszeta added. "Dropping a bomb on the binary components does not actually provide the correct mechanism for making the nerve agent. It is an infantile argument."

    Brian Palmer, a reporter for Slate covering science and medicine, wrote in 2012 that "the technical challenge for users of sarin is the dispersal." The nerve agent, he wrote, is exponentially more deadly when it is "aerosolized," or converted into a fine spray.

    Because one of the "precursors" for sarin is isopropyl alcohol, if a warehouse with sarin in it had been bombed, then it would have gone up "in a ball of flame," Kaszeta wrote. "A very large one. Which has not been in evidence."

    Additionally, he said, the sheer volume of materials — many of them "exotic"— necessary to produce sarin makes it extremely unlikely that the rebels could have stockpiled it in a large enough quantity to kill dozens of people.

    "Having a quantity of any of the nerve agents relies on a sophisticated supply chain of exotic precursors and an industrial base," Kaszeta wrote. "Are we to seriously believe that one of the rebel factions has expended the vast sums of money and developed this industrial base, somehow not noticed to date and not molested by attack?"

    SEE ALSO: 'Poisoned' Russian dissident: Trump echoed 'one of the Kremlin's oldest propaganda tools'

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    Nikki Haley

    UN ambassador Nikki Haley seemed to hint at a possible US intervention in Syria on Wednesday during a UN Security Council meeting.

    During her address to the council, Haley harshly condemned the gas attack in Syria that killed dozens on Tuesday.

    She slammed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime as "barbaric" and said Tuesday's attack had "all the hallmarks of the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons."

    Assad was previously blamed by the international community for a chemical weapons attack that killed 1,400 Syrians on the outskirts of Damascus in 2013. A UN report last August explicitly singled out Assad's forces and said they used chemical weapons in the town of Talmenes in 2014 and Sarmin in 2015. 

    "When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action," Haley said, appearing to allude to the possibility of US intervention in Syria if its citizens continue to be attacked. 

    Haley also specifically singled out Russia and Iran for what she called complicity with the Assad regime. 

    "Iran has reinforced Assad's military, and Russia has shielded Assad from UN sanctions," she said.

    Haley continued to unload on Russia – an ally of Assad – for its role in the crisis. "Just a few weeks ago, this council attempted to hold Assad responsible for suffocating his own people to death with toxic chemicals. Russia stood in the way of this accountability," she said.

    "They made an unconscionable choice. They chose to close their eyes to the barbarity ... in fact, if Russia had been fulfilling its responsibility, there would not even be any chemical weapons left for the Syrian regime to use," said Haley, referring to a deal brokered between the US and Russia to remove chemical weapons from Syria after Assad's forces had been linked to chemical attacks, which crossed Obama's "red line" in 2012. 

    Haley then held up pictures of children who had been injured in the chemical attack and asked, "How many more children have to die before Russia cares," while looking at the Russian ambassador. 

    Putin Assad

    The Russian government has denied any responsibility for Tuesday's attack, saying on Wednesday that the toxic gas was released accidentally when a Syrian air strike hit a "terrorist warehouse" containing "toxic substances." 

    "According to the objective data of the Russian airspace control, Syrian aviation struck a large terrorist warehouse near Khan Shaykhun that housed a warehouse making bombs, with toxic substances," the Russian defense ministry said in a statement.

    Experts have cast doubt on the Russian government's claim, calling it "fanciful" and saying that it would be "unsustainable" for a nerve agent like Sarin gas to spread as far as it did as the result of a bombing. 

    After Tuesday's attack in Syria, the White House pinned the blame on the Obama administration, saying in a statement that the attack was "a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution."

     

    Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report. 

    SEE ALSO: An 'infantile argument': Experts pour cold water on Russia's 'fanciful' explanation for Syrian gas attack

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    Syria Attack

    Russia will argue at the United Nations that an apparent chemical attack that left scores dead in Syria was in fact contamination caused by rebels' chemical munitions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.

    Russia has already suggested it would publicly stand by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    "Russia and its armed forces will continue their operations to support the anti-terrorist operations of Syria's armed forces to free the country," Peskov told reporters.

    "In our work with the Security Council, Russia will, as part of its argument, present the facts which have already been laid out by our defense ministry," he added.

    A Russian defense ministry statement said earlier that poison gas which killed scores of people in northwestern Syria had leaked from an insurgent chemical-weapons depot after Syrian warplanes hit it.

    Washington, Paris and London have drawn up a draft U.N. Security Council statement condemning the attack and demanding an investigation. Russia has the power to veto it, as it has done to block all previous resolutions that would harm Assad.

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    Donald Trump

    President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the recent chemical attack in Syria crossed "beyond a red line" and changed his mind about Bashar Assad, the ruthless Syrian president, whom Trump had previously suggested could stay in power.

    When asked during a press conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan whether the gas attack crossed a "red line," Trump said it "crossed a lot of lines" for him. The attack on Tuesday on a rebel-held town in northwest Syria killed at least 70 people.

    "When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was," Trump said, "that crosses many, many lines. Beyond a red line."

    Trump later said he was a "flexible person" and was capable of changing his opinions on issues.

    "That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. Big impact," Trump said. "That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I've been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn't get any worse than that.

    "It's very, very possible, and I will tell you it's already happened, that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much."

    Trump cited other attacks in Syria in recent weeks, saying they reached a "whole different level." He also called this week's attack "unacceptable."

    But Trump remained vague when asked whether his calculus on taking military action in Syria had changed. Trump has previously urged against using military action in Syria.

    "One of the things I think you've noticed about me is, militarily, I don't like to say where I'm going and what I'm doing," Trump said. "I'm not saying I'm doing anything one way or the other. But I'm certainly not gonna be telling you."

    Trump also criticized former President Barack Obama for failing to act in Syria after drawing a "red line" in 2012. Obama had threatened military action if the Assad regime used chemical weapons but backtracked after evidence of such an attack surfaced.

    "I think the Obama administration had a great opportunity to solve this crisis a long time ago when he said the red line in the sand," Trump said. "And when he didn't cross that line after making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways not only in Syria, but in many other parts of the world, because it was a blank threat."

    Trump said he now was responsible for helping resolve the Syrian civil war, which is dragging into its sixth year as rebels fight to oust Assad.

    Despite Trump saying this week's attack was on a "whole different level," the Assad regime has been known to use chemical weapons throughout the war.

    The New York Times noted that this week's attack "was among the deadliest uses of chemical weapons in Syria in years," but "it was far from an isolated case." Watchdog organizations estimate that more than 1,000 Syrians have been killed in chemical attacks since the start of the war.

    Trump's statements on Assad in recent years have been all across the board.

    In 2013, he tweeted, "AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA - IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!"

    The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said last week that forcing Assad from power was no longer a priority for the US.

    SEE ALSO: Trump blames chemical attack in Syria on the Obama administration's 'weakness and irresolution'

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    NOW WATCH: TRUMP: The Syrian chemical attack crossed 'many, many lines'


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    President Trump appeared with King Abdullah II of Jordan for a press conference at the White House. Responding to the chemical attack that occurred in Syria, Trump stated that it "crossed many, many lines."

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    One of the most devastating chemical attacks to take place during the six-year civil war in Syria has left dozens of people — including many children — dead or critically injured in the rebel-held province of Idlib.

    At least 70 people died in what activists and Western leaders have described as an airstrike conducted by the Syrian military in the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday.

    While the United Nations and Western leaders have quickly condemned the attack, the war that has left more than 450,000 Syrians dead and 12 million permanently displaced shows no sign of ending soon. Less than 24 hours after the chemical attack, more airstrikes reportedly started hitting the same part of town.

    Here's what happened and how the conflict escalated to this point.

    SEE ALSO: TRUMP: Syria chemical-weapons attack crossed 'beyond a red line,' and my attitude has changed

    DON'T MISS: Here's what you can do to help besieged, war-torn Syria

    Early on Tuesday, a military plane dropped a bomb on a building in the center of rural Khan Sheikhoun. Victims and medical professionals in the area said the large cloud of smoke caused many residents to pass out.

    Source: BBC



    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights first said at least 58 people, among them 11 children, passed out from inhaling the toxic chemicals released into the air. Many others died later after the initial exposure.

    Source: The Associated Press



    Minutes later, three strikes hit the center of town, exploding in the roads and surrounding buildings.

    Source: CNN



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Nikki Haley says that the U.S. may attack the Syrian government:

    Holding photographs of dead Syrian children after a suspected chemical bomb attack, the United States ambassador to the United Nations warned on Wednesday that her country might take unilateral action if the Security Council failed to respond to the latest atrocity in the Syria war.

    The proposed attack on Syria in 2013 was a dangerous idea when there were no Russian planes and air defenses in the country. Any similar “action” against the Syrian government now would be even riskier, and the U.S. could be drawn into a major war.

    By itself, launching an attack on the Syrian government would obviously mean committing acts of war against that government:

    Pretending that “action” in Syria isn’t war is an attempt to demand that the government initiate hostilities against another state without owning up to the implications of what that means.

    Even if the purpose of the action were simply punitive and intended to make their government “pay a price,” the U.S. will not be in control of how the other parties to the conflict respond to that action. That risks sparking a wider conflagration that could prove very costly for us and the entire region, and doing it just for the sake of punishing the Syrian government is not a good enough reason to take such a huge gamble.

    We also know that once so-called “limited” interventions begin they often do not stay “limited.”

    The war on ISIS began initially as a defensive response to a threat inside Iraq, but has since expanded into Syria and beyond. Once the U.S. makes the mistake of attacking the Syrian government, the clamor to “finish the job” will grow louder. And there are always unintended consequences in war, some of which none of us will have expected at the beginning, so it is possible that there are even greater dangers from taking such action that we don’t yet appreciate.

    In addition to being unwise and risky, the U.S. has no authority to attack the Syrian government in the absence of a U.N. resolution. Nor would Trump have any authority to initiate hostilities against the Syrian government without Congressional authorization. We know that there won’t be any U.N. resolution, and it is doubtful that Congress would give Trump this authorization. If Trump does what Haley is suggesting, he will be illegally starting a new conflict, and he will be attacking a government that doesn’t pose a threat to the U.S.

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