Rescue workers have gathered soil samples from the scene of a chemical weapons attack in northern Syria and sent them to western intelligence officials, who are seeking to determine precisely what nerve agent was used in one of the worst atrocities of the country’s six-year war.
The death toll from the attack on the town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province rose to at least 72 on Wednesday, with more than 300 other people harmed. The US, Britain and France all said it was very likely that sarin was dropped on the town.
As global condemnation of the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad mounted, Russia swung further behind its ally, denouncing a proposed UN resolution that blamed the regime for the attack and claiming that a depot used by opposition groups to store a nerve agent had been inadvertently bombed.
However, Jerry Smith, the operations chief of the UN team that supervised the surrender of Syria’s sarin stockpiles after more than 1,000 people were killed by the nerve agent in August 2013, said the components of the gas were almost always stored separately until they were about to be used.
“The Assad regime had two final precursors that would only be mixed just before use,” he said. “This scenario is that it was premade sarin in a store and, as a result of being hit, it has dispersed. This is plausible, but it requires a lot of things to align.”
The US ambassador to the UN rebuked Moscow for failing to rein in its ally. As security council members met in New York to discuss a draft resolution that would pin the blame on Assad’s regime, Nikki Haley asked: “How many more children have to die before Russia cares?”
Witnesses said at least one Syrian warplane dropped bombs on Khan Sheikhun…
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