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Syrian army, Foreign Ministry deny role in Idlib 'chemical' attack

An unconscious Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Shaykhun, Idlib Province, Syria, following a suspected chemical attack on April 4, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The Syrian military has categorically denied the accusations leveled against it about being involved in a suspected chemical attack in Syria's northwestern Idlib Province that killed dozens of people.

"The army command categorically denies using any chemical or toxic substance in Khan Shaykhun today," the Syrian army said a statement carried by the official SANA news agency on Tuesday.

The Syrian military also stressed that “it has never used them (chemical weapons), anytime, anywhere, and will not do so in the future.”

The Syrian military further blamed any use of chemical weapons on Syria's opposition and those who support them, noting that militants fabricate accusations of toxic gas attacks to divert attention from their failures on the ground.

Meanwhile, Syria’s Foreign Ministry issued a separate statement on Tuesday, strongly denying the use of poisonous gas in Khan Shaykhun or any other Syrian city or village by the country’s military and emphasizing that the Syrian Arab army did not possess any form of chemical weapons.

The statement took to task Syria’s terrorist groups and their foreign supporters for circulating false news about Syrian army’s chemical attack on in Idlib Province, noting that such claims were fabricated after terrorists lost considerable ground to Syrian forces in the battlefield.

The statement said false accusations were leveled against Syrian army following “considerable achievements by the Syrian Arab army and the allied forces in the war against terrorism during the previous days and weeks,” and on the eve of the European Union meeting on the situation in Syria.

“The Syrian Arab Republic stresses that these fabricated allegations will not prevent it from continuing its war on terrorists as well as their supporters and sponsors in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and some of the EU countries,” the statement said. 

The suspected chemical attack targeted the Idlib town of Khan Shaykhun earlier on Tuesday followed by alleged airstrikes, which hit a hospital where victims of the assault were being treated.

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There have been conflicting reports on the number of fatalities. While, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the incident has left at least 58 people dead and over 60 others injured, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations says at least 100 people have been killed and 400 more suffered from respiratory problems.

Turkish experts evacuate a victim of a suspected chemical attack in the Syrian province of Idlib, at a local hospital in Reyhanli, Turkey, Tuesday, April 4, 2017. (Photos via AP)

UNSC to meet on Idlib attack

In another development on Tuesday, the US ambassador to the United Nations said the UN Security Council (UNSC) would hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the fatal assault in Idlib.

Nikki Haley made the announcement in response to a request from Britain and France for an emergency council session.

UN commission launches probe into deadly Syria attack

Meanwhile, a commission affiliated to the UN Human Rights Council, whose mission is to investigate rights violations in the Arab country, said it had launched a probe into the suspected chemical attack in Idlib Province.

"Reports suggesting that this was a chemical weapons attack are extremely concerning. The commission is currently investigating the circumstances surrounding this attack including the alleged use of chemical weapons," the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic made the announcement in a statement.

A Syrian child receives treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Shaykhun town in Idlib Province, Syria, April 4, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

It further noted that the use of chemical weapons as well as any deliberate targeting of medical facilities "would amount to war crimes and serious violations of human rights law.”

"It is imperative for perpetrators of such attacks to be identified and held accountable," it added.

Syria’s opposition claimed that Tuesday's attack was caused by an airstrike carried out either by the Syrian government or Russian warplanes.

Russia's Defense Ministry has categorically rejected the claim, saying, "Russian air force planes haven't dealt any strikes on Khan Shaykhun in … Idlib."

Idlib attack ‘came from the air’

Separately on Tuesday, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura denounced the chemical attack as “horrific,” adding that it was launched from the air.

"What we have understood, it was a chemical attack and it came from the air," De Mistura said in a joint press conference with EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, on the sidelines of an international conference on Syria in Belgian capital, Brussels.

There should be a "clear identification of responsibilities and accountability," the UN envoy pointed out, emphasizing that every time there was a sign of progress in Syria peace talks, someone always tried to sabotage it.

"Every time we have a moment in which the international community is capable of being together, there is someone, somehow that tries to undermine that feeling of hope by producing a feeling of horror and outrage," he said.

Mogherini, for her part, said the Idlib attack was a reminder that the situation on the ground in Syria "continues to be dramatic."

Since March 2011, Syria has been gripped by militancy it blames on some Western states and their regional allies. Russia has been assisting the Syrian army in its counter-terrorism operations.

Washington has been leading a bombing campaign in Syria against what are said to be Daesh terrorists inside the country since September 2014 without any authorization from Damascus or a UN mandate. The strikes have led to a high number of civilian deaths.

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