US slams Russia over suspected chemical attack


United Nations: US Ambassador Nikki Haley on Wednesday lashed out at Russia for failing to rein in its ally Syria after a suspected chemical attack left scores dead including children.
“How many more children have to die before Russia cares” Haley told a meeting of the UN Security Council called to discuss the attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib province.
“If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have, we need to see them use it,” she said. “We need to see them put an end to these horrific acts.”
Haley stood up in the council chamber and showed two photographs of victims of the attack on Tuesday in the town of Khan Sheikhun.
“Look at those pictures,” she urged.
The emergency council meeting was called by France and Britain following the attack that killed at least 72 people, including 20 children, the worst in Syria since a 2013 sarin gas attack.
Britain, France and the United States have presented a draft resolution demanding a full investigation of the attack, but Russia said the text was “categorically unacceptable.”
The draft resolution calls for a full investigation by the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of the attack in the early hours of Tuesday in Khan Sheikhun.
Russia’s Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told the council that the proposed resolution was hastily prepared and unnecessary, but voiced support for an inquiry. “The main task now is to have an objective inquiry into what happened,” he said.
Negotiations were continuing on the draft after Russia’s foreign ministry said in Moscow that “the text as presented is categorically unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, Russia denied on Wednesday that Syrian President Bashar al Assad was to blame for a poison gas attack and said it would continue to back him, opening a rift between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s White House, which initially sought warmer ties.
Western countries, including the United States, blamed Assad’s armed forces for the worst chemical attack in Syria for more than four years, which choked scores of people to death in the town of Khan Sheikhun in a rebel-held area on Tuesday.
Washington said it believed the deaths were caused by sarin nerve gas dropped by Syrian aircraft. But Moscow offered an alternative explanation that would shield Assad: that the poison gas belonged to rebels and had leaked from an insurgent weapons depot hit by Syrian bombs.
A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Russian explanation was not credible. “We don’t believe it,” the official said.
The United States, Britain and France have proposed a draft UN Security Council resolution that would pin the blame on Damascus. But the Russian Foreign Ministry called the resolution “unacceptable” and said it was based on “fake information”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would take its case blaming the rebels for the poisoning to the United Nations.
“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.
Video uploaded to social media showed civilians sprawled on the ground, some in convulsions, others lifeless. Rescue workers hose down the limp bodies of small children, trying to wash away chemicals. People wail and pound on the chests of victims.
The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said one of its hospitals in Syria had treated patients “with symptoms — dilated pupils, muscle spasms, involuntary defecation — consistent with exposure to neuro-toxic agents such as sarin”. The World Health Organization also said the symptoms were consistent with exposure to a nerve agent.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the attack had killed more than 100 people. That death toll could not be independently confirmed.
“We’re talking about war crimes,” French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters in New York.
Hasan Haj Ali, commander of the Free Idlib Army rebel group, called the Russian statement blaming the rebels a “lie” and said rebels did not have the capability to produce nerve gas.
“Everyone saw the plane while it was bombing with gas,” he told Reuters from northwestern Syria. “Likewise, all the civilians in the area know that there are no military positions there, or places for the manufacture (of weapons).” — AFP/Reuters