Yad Vashem Calls for International Action in Syria After Deadly Chemical Attack

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In this picture taken on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, victims of the suspected chemical weapons attack are treated, in Khan Sheikhoun, in the northern province of Idlib, Syria.
In this picture taken on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, victims of the suspected chemical weapons attack are treated, in Khan Sheikhoun, in the northern province of Idlib, Syria.Credit: /AP

The head of Israel's Holocaust memorial urged world leaders on Thursday to end to the atrocities in Syria following a chemical weapon attack that killed dozens of civilians this week.

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev said the international community must "end the human suffering and provide humanitarian aid to the victims."

He noted that after World War II world leaders enacted universal principles and instituted organizations aimed at preventing future crimes against humanity. He said those tools should be utilized now to stop atrocities in Syria.

The chemical attack was met with condemnation by the international community and many, including Israel's Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, believe that Syria's President Bashar Assad should be held responsible. But Russia, the Syrian government's most important ally and supporter, claimed the incident was the result of a Syrian air force bomb hitting a stockpile of chemical weapons it says was held by rebel forces fighting against the government.

Notably, Russia is one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council and maintains the ability to veto any international resolution to condemn or authorize economic or military action against Assad.

On Wednesday, Russia condemned a draft resolution written by the U.S., Paris, and the U.K., also a permanent member of the Security Council. The proposal includes a condemnation and demands an investigation into the chemical attack. 

Russia's Foreign Ministry called it "unacceptable," said it was based on "fake information" that "names the culprit, Damascus," and claimed that it would exacerbate tensions in the area, making peace negotiations more complicated.

At a Security Council meeting on Wednesday, which took place after Russia's comments, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warned that the administration of President Donald Trump would take action against chemical attacks in Syria if the UN failed to act.

"There are times at the United Nations when we are compelled to take collective action," she said. "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."

It was unclear precisely what such action might include.

Though Russia still apparently stood in opposition to the proposed resolution for political reasons, deputy UN ambassador Vladimir Safronkov did agree that an investigation should be held into the incident.

"Up to now all falsified reports about this incident have come from the White Helmets (a volunteer search-and-rescue organization in Syria) or the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights based in London, which have been discredited long ago," he said.

The last permanent member of the Security Council that also has veto power, China, has remained silent on the issue since the chemical attack on Tuesday, though in February it joined Russia in vetoing a resolution in against Syria's Assad regime for the alleged use of chemical weapons.