BEIRUT: The death toll from a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held Syrian town has risen to 72, 20 of them children, a monitoring group said on Wednesday.
“There were also 17 women among the dead and the death toll could rise further because there are people missing,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The United Nations Security Council was to meet later on Wednesday to debate a Western-drafted resolution condemning the air strike.
But Moscow, which holds a veto, defended its Damascus ally saying that while Syrian aircraft had carried out a strike, the chemicals were part of a “terrorist” stockpile of “toxic substances” that had been hit on the ground.
Rebel groups led by former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front vowed revenge for Tuesday’s strike in the town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province in the northwest.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres also on Wednesday said he is “deeply disturbed” by reports of alleged use of chemical weapons in an airstrike in the Khan Shaykhun area of southern Idlib, Syria.
In a statement from his spokesperson, he expressed heartfelt condolences to the victims of the incident and their families.
He noted that the UN Security Council affirmed that the use of chemical weapons “constitutes a serious violation of international law” and runs counter to resolutions passed by the 15-member body.
While the UN has said that it is not in a position to independently verify these reports, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is currently in the process of gathering and analyzing information to confirm if chemical weapons were used.
The OPCW is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which aims to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction by prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons by States Parties.
Meanwhile, the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic has added its support for OPCW’s fact finding mission. Established by the UN Human Rights Council, the Commission works to investigate if human rights abuses occurred in Syria since March 2011 and who should be held responsible.
In statement, the commission urged “full support” for the fact-finding mission and the independent Joint Investigative Mechanism.
“It is imperative for perpetrators of such attacks to be identified and held accountable,” the commission said, adding that it is also investigating the circumstances surrounding the attack.
AFP AND UN NEWS