Latest chemical attack in Syria sparks outrage

The Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria faces worldwide condemnation after a chemical attack on rebel-held territory killed dozens of civilians and left children who survived gasping for breath.

The United States and allies are weighing a response to the April 7 shelling of Douma, the last town the rebels had controlled in Eastern Ghouta in their seven-year struggle to oust Assad.

President Trump condemned the latest “heinous attack on innocent Syrians with banned chemical weapons. … It can’t be allowed to happen.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May said continued use of chemical weapons “cannot go unchallenged,” and all indications show that Syrian forces were behind the bombing.

The World Health Organization said its health partners on the ground reported an estimated 500 people “exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals” were treated and more than 70 people sheltering in basements died. Forty-three of the dead had “symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals.”

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said April 10 that its inspectors were preparing to deploy to Syria and that Assad’s government has been approached for permission to enter Douma.

Doctors treating survivors report that the patients smell of chlorine, which can suffocate its victims. In earlier attacks, the Assad regime has been accused of using sarin gas, an even deadlier nerve agent, despite its claim to have destroyed its stockpiles of chemical weapons.

Chemical weapons are banned

All chemical weapons are prohibited under an international treaty signed by almost every nation, including Syria.

Russia blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution on April 10 that would have required the Syrian government to comply with an independent investigation.

A century ago, combatants unleashed mustard and other poisonous gases that killed tens of thousands on European battlefields during World War I. The use of these agents so repulsed the world that the 1925 Geneva Convention was adopted outlawing the use of chemical weapons.

But the practice re-emerged, notably in the 1980s when Iraq used chemical weapons in its war against Iran and then against its Kurdish minority. Now, the conflict in Syria has forced the civilized world to confront this scourge again.

Syria was widely blamed for the sarin attack that killed hundreds of civilians in Eastern Ghouta in August 2013. That year the U.S. and Russia brokered a deal under which Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons.

But it did not end.

After a sarin attack killed scores in April 2017, the United States struck a Syrian air base with missiles. Earlier this year, there were suspected chlorine attacks against the cities of Saraqeb in Idlib province and Douma in Eastern Ghouta.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the world cannot accept chemical attacks as “the new normal.”

“The United States is determined to see the monster who dropped chemical weapons on the Syrian people held to account,” she said.