One year after the Khan Sheikhun chemical massacre, the international community is still unable to hold Syrian government accountable
National and international investigations have revealed the Syrian government’s involvement in the targeting of the city of Khan Sheikhun, 60 kilometers south of Idlib, Northern Syria, with chemical weapons. The inhalation of toxic gases resulted in dozens of victims, amid international silence and the inability to hold the criminals accountable. The international community condemned the attack and threatened with sanctions, but did not intervene. The United States shelled the Shayrat military airbase east of Homs, Central Syria.
The chemical attack killed and wounded dozens and its survivors testify:
On Apr. 4, 2017, Syrian government warplanes bombed the city of Khan Sheikhun using sarin gas, killing 85 people, including 27 children and 19 women. Also, more than 546 people were injured by suffocation, most of them women, children and Civil Defense volunteers.
Ahmed Abu Staif, an Idlib paramedic, told SMART that the chemical attack shocked him and the medical staff. He continued, “It was the first time I witnessed a chemical attack. The people were dying because they could not breathe without bleeding.”
Another paramedic, who introduced himself as Abu Jamal, described his feeling when he saw the wounded people as "difficult". Despite the paramedics’ training on how to deal with chemical attacks, Abu Jamal was unable to take in what was happening, and has only recently started to realize the truth.
One of the survivors, Abd al-Hamid Yusuf, lost 19 members of his family, including his wife and twin children. Yusu told SMART that the wounded people tried to help each other, but the severity of the many injuries immobilized them and they fell to the ground (video). Yusuf called on the international community to come and see how the children die.
One of the surviving children is still receiving treatment in hospital. He told SMART that the warplane bombed the area where he lives. When he woke up he found himself in the hospital, without remembering what had happened.
Doctors without Borders reported that the victims of the attack were exposed to at least two different chemical materials. They had symptoms of muscle spasms, involuntary defecation and constricted pupils (video). The paramedics could also smell bleach, indicating sarin gas in addition to chlorine gas.
The British Bellingcat website revealed that the ammunition used in the chemical attacks on the city of Khan Sheikhun originated from Iranian IRAM short-range missiles. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey has radar recordings proving which warplanes carried out the chemical attack.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that sarin gas or a similar toxic material was used in attack on the city. The result was supported by several analyzes and the detection of toxic materials at the scene. The Turkish Health Minister, Recep Akdag, revealed that the tests conducted on the victims of the attack confirmed the use of sarin gas.
International community promises to hold the Syrian government accountable a year after its condemnation of the massacre:
On Apr. 4, 2018, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the United States vowed to hold the Syrian government accountable for the Khan Sheikhun chemical massacre.
The promise came a year after the same countries condemned the chemical attack. International responses were limited to condemnation and accusations and did not take serious steps to hold those responsible accountable for the attack, despite the fact that all countries received evidence against the Syrian government.
The former French president Francois Hollande, the British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, and the European Union Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini hold the Syrian government responsible for the attack. They stressed that international efforts will hold those responsible accountable.
The White House spokesman Sean Spicer said, “the attack is unacceptable and can’t be ignored by the civilized world." He also said that the actions of the Syrian government, which he described as "heinous," came due to the weakness of the administration of former US President Barack Obama.
On Jan. 15, 2017, Obama said that Washington agreed to a Moscow-brokered deal to send Syria's chemical weapons to Russia to prevent imminent airstrikes by the Syrian government. The Khan Sheikhun massacre came after the Syrian government claimed to have delivered its entire stockpile of chemical weapons to Russia.
The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, also blamed the Syrian government and its allies for the chemical attack. He pointed out that the Syrian government is the main actor behind the "atrocities" in Syria and shares responsibility with those who support it.
The only international intervention following the chemical massacre in Khan Sheikhun was a United States’ rocket attack on the Syrian government’s Shayrat military airbase (31 kilometers southeast of Homs). The US targeted the airbase using 59 Tomahawk missiles. The Pentagon claimed it had destroyed 20 percent of the Syrian air force.
The United Kingdom and Canada supported the United States and its military strikes on the Shayrat military airbase. The Turkish Foreign Minister Mouloud Jawish Oglu considered that the U.S. strikes would remain "marginal" if not followed by subsequent steps.
Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, Salil Shetty, said that the U.S. strike on the Shayrat airbase “should not substitute an in-depth investigation to hold those responsible accountable for the chemical attack."
An lack of international intervention and Russia's defense of the Syrian government
Although the international community condemns the massacre described by the United Nations as "horrific", and human rights and humanitarian organizations assert that they have evidence of the Syrian government forces’ use of "chemicals", the international community is still unable to hold the Syrian government accountable, mainly because of Russia’s defense of the Syrian government.
One day after the Khan Sheikhun massacre, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting to vote on a draft resolution submitted by the United States, France and the United Kingdom to condemn the attack.
The resolution asked the Syrian government to give flight records and all information related to military operations carried out on Apr. 4, 2017 to international investigators. The resolution also threatened to impose sanctions under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
However, Russia objected to the draft resolution, and called upon countries to amend the resolution text, which it considered "insufficient." On Apr. 7, 2017, Russia circulated a draft resolution to the UN Security Council, suggesting that the International Commission of Inquiry and the Joint United Nations / Chemical Weapons Prohibition Commission visit Khan Sheikhun "as soon as possible for a full investigation".
The Russian project also called on the Syrian parties to ensure the entry of the two committees. The director of the Chemical Weapons Prohibition Organization and the head of the International Commission of Inquiry requested a proposal to form the investigation team, "taking into account the criteria of geographical balance."
The United Nations issued a fourth report confirming that the Syrian government is responsible for the chemical attack on the city of Khan Sheikhun. The report pointed out that all collected evidence indicates that a Syrian government aircraft launched a bomb on Khan Sheikhun using sarin gas against more than 100 civilians.
The report stressed that the chemical attack "raises concern, and if the use of chemical attacks continue to go unsanctioned, they will continue regardless of the international ban.”
Russia' veto and continued defense of the Syrian government led to the Security Council’s failure to vote for a draft resolution. The remaining Security Council members remained silent, and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the lack of a UN Security Council resolution condemning the chemical attack as a "scandal".
Despite the severity of statements to hold the Syrian government accountable for the use of chemical weapons, the international community is still unable to follow up on any of its threats. The Syrian government forces continue to ignore all international bans, leaving hundreds of thousands of victims and millions of internally displaced persons and refugees.