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Syria victims show signs of nerve agents exposure: WHO



Syrians bury the bodies of victims of a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, in Syria’s north-western Idlib province, on April 5th. [Fadi al-Halabi/AFP]

Some victims of a suspected chemical attack in Syria have symptoms consistent with exposure to a category of chemicals that includes nerve agents, the World Health Organisation said Wednesday (April 5th).

The UN health agency said the Tuesday attack in Idlib province appeared to have involved chemical weapons, pointing to the "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".

"Some cases appear to show additional signs consistent with exposure to organophosphorus chemicals, a category of chemicals that includes nerve agents," it said.

At least 72 civilians, among them 20 children, were killed in Tuesday's attack in Khan Sheikhun, updating an earlier toll, AFP reported.

As soon as word got out about the suspected chemical attack, WHO said it began dispatching medicines, including Atrophine, an antidote for some types of chemical exposure, and steroids for symptomatic treatment, from a warehouse in Idlib.

"WHO is shipping additional medicines from Turkey and is ready to provide more life-saving supplies and ambulances as needed," it said.

Turkey said Wednesday it was treating some 30 people after the attack, and that two people brought to Turkey had died.

Condemnation continued to pour in after the attack, the horrific events of which, UN chief Antonio Guterres said, "demonstrate unfortunately that war crimes are going on in Syria".

Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned the attack as an "unacceptable massacre".

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit also condemned the attack, saying that "targeting and killing civilians with these prohibited methods is considered a major crime and a barbaric act".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday branded the attack a "war crime" and demanded Russia and Iran put pressure on the Syrian regime, noting that it has been held responsible for chemical weapons use in the past.

EU president Donald Tusk on Wednesday blamed the Syrian regime for the attack, saying it has "the primary responsibility for the atrocities", with those who support it sharing the "moral and political responsibility".

Meanwhile, the Russian defence ministry on Wednesday claimed that a Syrian airstrike had hit a "terrorist warehouse" containing "toxic substances".

The UN Security Council on Wednesday opened an emergency session to discuss the attack.

A draft resolution presented by Britain, France and the US calls for a full investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

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