Emergency UN Meeting Amid Reports Of ‘Horrific Chemical Attack’ In Syria
The UK is set to meet with other members of the UN Security Council in an emergency meeting to discuss a recent suspected chemical attack in Syria.
The US requested the meeting with France, Poland, Netherlands, Sweden, Kuwait, Peru and Cote d’Ivoir to discuss the reported attack that is believed to have killed scores of civilians.
Horrific images have shown children being fitted with gas masks in the aftermath of the attack and medical officials on the ground have reported that dozens of people were injured or killed.
The council is likely to meet on Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Russia also called for a Monday meeting of the US Security Council concerning “international threats to peace and security,” diplomats said on Sunday.
The precise topic of what the Russians wished to discuss was not immediately clear but the request came after President Donald Trump took to Twitter to say there would be a “big price to pay” for the bombardment.
As international officials worked to try to confirm the chemical attack, which happened late on Saturday in the town of Douma, Mr Trump took the rare step of directly criticising Russian President Vladimir Putin in connection with the incident.
In one video shared by activists – which has not yet been verified – the bodies of around a dozen children, women and men, some with foam at the mouth, were seen.
The Syrian state denied government forces had launched any chemical attack and Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally, called the reports bogus.
“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay,” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.
The White House declined to clarify what consequences Trump had in mind.
Last year, the United States launched a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base days after a sarin gas attack in northwestern Syria blamed on Assad.
The Russian Foreign Ministry warned against any military action on the basis of “invented and fabricated excuses”, saying this could lead to severe consequences.
It is understood that the UK has been in contact with senior officials in Paris, Washington and at the United Nations in New York as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson Johnson called for an international response.
He demanded an urgent investigation and warned Syrian leader Assad’s allies in Moscow not to “obstruct” the probe.
Mr Johnson said the reports were “deeply disturbing” and “truly horrific”.
He added: “These latest reports must urgently be investigated and the international community must respond.
“Investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) looking into reports of chemical weapons use in Syria have our full support. Russia must not yet again try to obstruct these investigations. “
The OPCW is at the centre of the diplomatic row between the UK and Vladimir Putin’s Russia over the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, with the organisation currently testing samples of the substance allegedly used in the incident.
Mr Johnson added: “Should it be confirmed that the regime has used chemical weapons again, it would be yet another appalling example of the Assad regime’s brutality and blatant disregard for both the Syrian people and its legal obligations not to use chemical weapons.”
A joint statement by the medical relief organisation Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the civil defence service, which operates in rebel-held areas, said 49 people had died in the attack.
But others put the toll even higher.
Some reports suggested more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were brought to medical centres with difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth, and burning sensations in the eyes.
SAMS said a chlorine bomb hit Douma hospital, killing six people, and a second attack with “mixed agents”, including nerve agents, had hit a nearby building.
Basel Termanini, the US-based vice president of SAMS, told Reuters another 35 people had been killed at a nearby apartment building, most of them women and children.
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.