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Russia defends Syria against ‘chemical attack’ outcry as world condemns ‘war crimes’

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Russia stood by its ally Damascus on Wednesday ahead of a UN Security Council meeting to address accusations the Syrian government launched a chemical weapons attack that killed scores of civilians.

At least 72 people, among them 20 children, were killed in Tuesday’s attack in rebel-held Khan Sheikhun, and dozens more were left gasping for air, convulsing, and foaming at the mouth, doctors said.

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The World Health Organization said there was reason to suspect a chemical attack, with some victims displaying symptoms suggesting exposure to “a category of chemicals that includes nerve agents.”

Britain, France and the United States have circulated a draft Security Council resolution demanding a swift investigation, after pointing the finger at President Bashar al-Assad’s government for the attack.

But Moscow, which launched a military intervention in 2015 in support of Assad’s forces, said the deaths were caused when a Syrian air strike hit a “terrorist warehouse” used for making bombs containing “toxic substances”.

It also said it would continue its military campaign in support of government forces.

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Syria’s army has denied any use of chemical weapons, saying it “has never used them, any time, anywhere, and will not do so in the future.”

But its denials have done little to quiet international condemnation, with UN chief Antonio Guterres on Wednesday saying the “horrific events” showed that “war crimes are going on in Syria”.

Pope Francis said he was “horrified” by the “unacceptable massacre… where dozens of defenseless people, including many children, were killed.”

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– Backers ‘share responsibility’ –

Others blamed Damascus more directly for the attack, including British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who said “all the evidence I have seen suggests this was the Assad regime.”

EU president Donald Tusk said Assad’s government bore “primary responsibility for the atrocities,” adding “all those who support the regime share the moral and political responsibility.”

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Washington also accused Assad’s government of responsibility, but drew criticism from Syria’s opposition, which said an apparent softening of the US line on the embattled leader had emboldened him.

Iran, another key Assad ally, condemned “all use of chemical weapons” in Syria, but suggested the blame for the attack may lie with “terrorist groups”.

If confirmed, the attack would be among the worst incidents of chemical weapons use in Syria’s brutal civil war, which has killed over 320,000 people since it began in March 2011.

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It unfolded in the early hours of Tuesday morning, with airplanes carrying out strikes that released “toxic gas” on Khan Sheikhun, in the northwestern province of Idlib, according to witnesses and a monitoring group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said at least 160 people suffered the effects of the gas, with medical sources reporting incidents of vomiting, fainting, breathing problems and foaming at the mouth.

The WHO said some victims of the attack showed symptoms “consistent with exposure to organophosphorus chemicals, a category of chemicals that includes nerve agents.”

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– New air strikes –

Medics worked frantically in the hours after the attack to treat a steady stream of patients, administering oxygen and hosing down victims to wash off chemical residue.

Even as they worked, air strikes hit a medical facility treating victims, an AFP correspondent said, inflicting severe damage and prompting nearly a dozen medical staff to flee.

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Air strikes hit Khan Sheikhun again on Wednesday morning, the Observatory said. There were no immediate details on a toll.

Idlib province is controlled mostly by an alliance of rebel and jihadist groups, including the former Al-Qaeda affiliate known as Fateh al-Sham Front.

Syria officially relinquished its chemical arsenal and signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013, to avert military action after it was accused of an attack outside Damascus that killed hundreds.

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But there have been repeated allegations of chemical weapons use since, with a UN-led investigation pointing the finger at the regime for at least three chlorine attacks in 2014 and 2015.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it was “seriously concerned” by reports of Tuesday’s attack.

The resolution proposed by Britain, France and the United States calls for the OPCW to quickly report findings on the attack, and demands Syria provide flight plans, flight logs and other information on its military operations on the day of the assault.

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– Donor talks in Brussels –

But it was unclear if Russia would veto the measure, as it has often done with previous Security Council resolutions concerning Syria.

Successive rounds of peace talks aimed at ending the ongoing civil war have failed to produce results, and Syria’s opposition warned Tuesday that the attack cast doubt on the prospects for future negotiations.

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Donor nations were meanwhile meeting for a second day in Brussels at a conference hosted by the European Union and United Nations to raise new funds for Syrian refugees, whose number now tops five million.

Over half Syria’s population has been displaced internally and abroad since the conflict began, with regional neighbours hosting most of those who have become refugees.

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.



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Trump blindsided after Macron ‘covertly’ invites Iran Foreign Minister Zarif to G7 summit for talks: report

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According to a report from the Washington Post, President Donald Trump and his staff were "blindsided" when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made a surprise visit to the G7 summit, reportedly as part of a "covert invitation" from French President Emmanuel Macron.

The report states that Zarif engaged in conversation with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Dria, without the knowledge of anyone from the White House and that Trump himself was not aware of the meeting until a reporter asked him about it.

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MSNBC panel rips media for giving Trump rejects a second act: ‘There are still children in cages as we speak’

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An MSNBC panel on Sunday mocked the ABC reality show Dancing with the Stars for casting former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

MSNBC host Joy Reid wondered why so many former Trump administration officials are being hired for "second acts."

"You've got Sean Spicer on Dancing with the Stars," guest Jason Johnson said. "I didn't know you could dance without a spine."

"It's all a hustle," he continued. "I don't believe any of them. I don't believe Scaramucci. I don't believe Omarosa. I don't believe any of them. They are just the kind of foul, racist supporting people that they were with this administration."

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Lindsey Graham ripped for telling Americans to ‘accept the pain’ from Trump’s trade war: ‘Tell that to the farmers’

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Appearing  with CBS’s Margaret Brennan on “Face the Nation" on Sunday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told viewers they will start to see increases in products coming from China -- despite Donald Trump saying the Chinese will abord the costs of his tariffs -- and that they need to suck it up and "accept the pain."

As Graham explained it, "The Democrats for years have been claiming that China should be stood up to. Now Trump is, and we just got to accept the pain that comes with standing up to China. How do you get China to change without creating some pain on them and us? I don’t know.”

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