Human Rights |

Syrian survivors of sarin attack grieve one year on



Syrians gather on July 12th, 2017 at a destroyed building in the town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province, 100 days after 88 people were killed, including 31 children, in a sarin attack. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights labeled the raid the second deadliest use of chemical weapons in Syria's war. [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]

On his wedding anniversary on Wednesday (April 4th), Abdulhamid Yusuf will have nothing to mark but a chemical attack that killed his wife and two babies.

At least 80 people were killed on April 4th last year, Yusuf's wedding anniversary, when war planes dropped sarin gas on his hometown of Khan Sheikhun in north-west Syria.

The chemical assault on the opposition-held town was one of the most shocking of Syria's war, causing global outrage and rare retaliatory airstrikes by the US.

"I have been deprived of part of my body, of my soul," says the 29-year-old widower, breaking into tears as he sits in the garden of his now empty home.

An image of Yusuf holding the lifeless bodies of his 11-month-old twins -- Aya and Ahmad -- spread around the world in the wake of the attack.

Yusuf also lost his wife Dalal and 16 other relatives, including his brother, nephew and many cousins.

As Yusuf visits the cemetery to clear the graves of his loved ones 12 months on, his grief and anger is still raw.

"I will not be able to start over. I will not forget the past," he says.

'Never forget'

Khan Sheikhun lies in Syria's Idlib province, the last in the country to remain largely beyond the control of the Syrian regime.

UN war crimes investigators said they have evidence Syrian regime forces were responsible for the deadly attack on Khan Sheikhun, but the allegations have been rejected by Damascus and its ally Russia.

The early morning raid last year killed more than 80 people, including 30 children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Ahmad al-Yusuf, 20, lost both his parents and two young brothers -- Mohammed and Anwar -- on a day he says he will never forget.

After the strikes hit, he rushed home to find his neighbour sitting on the ground, shaking uncontrollably and incapable of talking.

"I will never forget that day or those details," he says. "I lost all my family -- everything that was dearest to me."

He clings on to their memory even as he adapts to his new life alone, now running the family's convenience store on his own.

"Whether I am coming or going at home, I always see them in front of me."

Insufficient response

The deadly strikes on Khan Sheikhun sparked international condemnation, and a retaliatory US strike at a Syrian airfield allegedly used in the attack.

But the bereaved residents feel nothing more substantial has been done to hold those responsible to account.

Mohamed al-Jawhara, 24, lost his parents, nephew and several cousins.

"It was such a shock. How do you bear seeing them all die in a single day?"

Jawhara expresses frustration at what he sees as the insufficient response of the international community in holding Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to account.

"We hoped he would be tried and have to pay" for what he did, he says.

World leaders "have made statement after statement, but in the end they have been weak".

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May God have mercy on every martyr killed by sarin gas! The shock was huge for the people. We pray to God to help Syria and the peaceful people of Syria. God suffices me and He is the best disposer of affairs!