Syria chemical attack toll rises to 75, US warns of 'unilateral action'
The death toll from a suspected chemical attack on a northern Syrian town rose to 75 today as activists and rescue workers found more terrified survivors hiding in shelters near the site of the assault, one of the deadliest in Syria's civil war.
Meanwhile, the United States today warned that it could take unilateral action if the United Nations fails to respond to a suspected chemical attack in Syria that has left scores dead, including children.
The warning came from US Ambassador Nikki Haley during an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called by France and Britain following the attack in the early hours Tuesday on a rebel-held town in Idlib province.
"When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action," Haley said, without elaborating.
A Syrian opposition group said renewed airstrikes hit the town of Khan Sheikhoun a day after the attack, which the Trump administration and others have blamed on the government of President Bashar Assad, as well as his main patrons, Russia and Iran.
Damascus and Moscow have denied they were behind the attack. Russia's Defence Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel arsenal, an account Britain dismissed at an emergency UN session called in response to the attack.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the UK had seen nothing that would suggest rebels "have the sort of chemical weapons that are consistent with the symptoms that we saw yesterday."
Russia said it would submit information from its Defense Ministry to the Security Council debate.
A resolution drafted by Britain, France, and the US stresses the Syrian government's obligation to provide information about its air operations, including the names of those in command of any helicopter squadrons on the day of the attack.
Diplomats were also meeting in Brussels for a major donors' conference on the future of Syria and the region.
Representatives from 70 countries were present.
The attack on Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people on Tuesday, leaving residents gasping for breath and convulsing in the streets. Videos from the scene showed volunteer medics using fire hoses to wash the chemicals from victims' bodies.
Haunting images of lifeless children piled in heaps reflected the magnitude of the attack, which was reminiscent of a 2013 chemical assault that left hundreds dead and was the worst in the country's six-year conflict.
The Turkish Health Ministry said three victims of the attack died while being treated in Turkey, and that 29 people wounded in the attack were still being cared for in hospitals in the country. Syrian opposition groups had previously reported 72 dead.
Turkey set up a decontamination center at a border crossing in the province of Hatay following the attack, where the victims are initially treated before being moved to hospitals.
Syrian doctors said a combination of toxic gases is suspected to have been released during the airstrikes, causing the high death toll and severe symptoms.
The World Health Organisation and the international medical charity Doctors Without Borders said victims of the attack appear to show symptoms consistent with exposure to a nerve agent.
In a statement, the agency said "the likelihood of exposure to a chemical attack is amplified by an apparent lack of external injuries reported in cases showing a rapid onset of similar symptoms, including acute respiratory distress as the main cause of death."