At least 58 people, including 11 children, were killed in a suspected chemical gas attack believed to have been conducted by Syrian government jets in the rebel-held province of Idlib early Tuesday, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and local health officials.
Reports of the chemical attack come just days after U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called Assad a "war criminal" while also saying that his removal was no longer America's top "priority." Haley's comments were the latest in a string of statements from the Trump administration that signal a change of U.S. policy in Syria, with the war against ISIS now taking top billing.
On Tuesday White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeated the Trump administration's position that Assad was now a "political reality." Spicer called the attacks "heinous" but added that they were the "consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution."
Images from the scene of the attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun showed victims with foam at their mouths and shrunken irises. Doctors in the area said the victims' symptoms were consistent with exposure to deadly sarin gas, a banned chemical weapon.
"This morning, at 6:30 a.m., warplanes targeted Khan Sheikhoun with gases believed to be sarin and chlorine," Mounzer Khalil, head of Idlib's health authority, told a news conference.
Aircraft later fired rockets on clinics treating the wounded, medics and activists said.
A Syrian military source denied it had used chemical weapons, and Russia's defense ministry insisted it had not conducted airstrikes in the area.
If confirmed, this would be the deadliest chemical attack in Syria since sarin killed hundreds of civilians in Ghouta near Damascus in August 2013. That attack, which Western governments and monitoring groups blamed on Assad, and Assad blamed on rebels, brought the U.S. to the brink of an intervention to remove the Syrian president. Instead, a deal was struck for the country's chemical arsenal to be destroyed.
Nearly four years on, Assad still clings to power, anchored by Russian and Iranian support that has swung the war his way. Reported chemical attacks have continued at a lower level but with impunity.
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