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Death toll in Syrian gas attack now 86

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The death toll stands at 86 after a suspected chemical attack in north-western Syria, according to reports from an independent monitor.

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The dead include 30 children and 20 women, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Wednesday.

The organisation added that the toll is likely to increase as there are dozens of wounded and missing.

Several Western powers have blamed the attack on the Syrian regime, an accusation which its army denies, but the bombing has sparked calls for leaders to take harsher action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Russia was slammed for not reining Damascus in during a UN Security Council session on Wednesday, with the US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley calling al-Assad “a man with no conscience” and adding that Syria, Russia and Iran “have no interest in peace”.

“If Russia had fulfilled its responsibility, there would not be any chemical weapons left for the Syrian regime to use,” Haley, who is the UN Security Council’s chair for April, said.

Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has deflected blame for the attack, in which the Syrian state military has been accused of using chemical weapons.

Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov, said he didn’t see a need to pass a resolution put forward by the United States, France and Britain, which would have called for an investigation and requested detailed information about Syria’s military air missions.

Safronkov said video footage of the alleged attacks was “fabricated” and called instead for a “thorough, depoliticised investigation based on reliable and verifiable facts”.

Haley also voiced frustrations with the UN’s limited capacity to take action, and hinted that states could pursue other avenues, but did not specify what kind of action this would be.

“When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action,” said Haley.

The World Health Organisation and Doctors without Borders (MSF) said the incident in the town of Khan Sheikhoun was likely a chemical attack and reported that victims had symptoms consistent with exposure to nerve agents like sarin gas.

US President Donald Trump said a Syrian regime chemical attack against innocent civilians was “an affront to humanity by the Assad regime that cannot be tolerated.”

Several rounds of peace talks, including a recent UN-sponsored meeting in Geneva last week, have failed to produce a political breakthrough for the Syrian crisis, which erupted in 2011 and has claimed more than 300,000 lives.

– DPA

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