White House: Assad Regime Is 'Political Reality' - Syria Chemical Attack Result of Obama 'Weakness'

UN Syria envoy says Security Council to convene in order to ascertain accountability of alleged chemical attack in Idlib, while EU blames Assad.

A Syrian doctor treating a child following a suspected chemical attack at a makeshift hospital in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. April 4, 2017.
Uncredited/AP

Condemnations and calls for action poured in from across the world Tuesday after an alleged chemical attack in Syria left dozens dead, including over ten children, with Turkey calling the incident a "crime against humanity."

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The White House condemned the "heinous actions," but said the attack was a consequence of the Obama administration's "weakness." The statement added that there is not a fundamental option of "regime change" in Syria, calling the Assad government a "political reality."

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the attack shows how the Assad regime operates "with brutal unabashed barbarism." He added that Russia and Iran should use their influence over Syria to unsure such "horrific" acts never happen again.

A senior State Department official said that the "reprehensible attack" was "completely unnaceptable," and went on to say that as the situation currently stands, it "clearly" consitutes a war crime. The senior official added that any cooperation with between the U.S. and Assad to defeat ISIS in Syria at this point is "highly unlikely," and "not on the cards."

moment of airstrike on the Syrian hospital

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura called the attack "horrific" and confirmed that there will be a UN Security Council meeting in order to ascertain accountability of the attack.

>> Assad's Chemical Attack in Syria: Two Failures and Two Lessons to Consider >> This is what happens when you're exposed to a deadly nerve agent 

Meanwhile UN war crimes investigators are reported to have opened an investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons, and the subsequent attack on a nearby medical facitility where those injured in the attack were reportedly being treated.

French President Francois Hollande, in a statement condemning the attack said that the latest chemical attack in Syria shows that Bashar Al-Assad continues to benefit from the complicity of its allies to act with impunity.

France's foreign minister also called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council after what he said was a "disgusting" gas attack on Syria's rebel-held Idlib province, as the EU reportedly blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad for the attack, saying he bore "responsibility" for it.

A man breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017.
AMMAR ABDULLAH/REUTERS

British Prime Minister Theresa May called for an investigation into Tuesdays attacks.

"I'm appalled by the reports that there's been a chemical weapons attack on a town south of Idlib, allegedly by the Syrian regime," May said while visiting Saudi Arabia. 

"If proven, this will be further evidence of the barbarism of the Syrian regime." She urged the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate the incident. 

Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said in statement earlier Tuesday that if the Assad regime is proved to be responsible for the attack that they would be guilty of war crimes.

"If this were proved to have been committed by the Assad regime then it would be another reason to think they are an absolutely heinous outfit, it is a war crime," Johnson told reporters at a news conference in London.

"Bombing your own civilians with chemical weapons is unquestionably a war crime and they must be held to account."

In a statement on Tuesday U.S. Republican Senator McCain called the strikes "butchery," claiming that Assad believes he can act with impunity, and questioned whether the U.S. would allow the situation to continue. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said a suspected chemical attack by Syrian government or Russian jets killed at least 58 people, including 11 children, in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib.

Hours later, the hospital treating the suspected gas attack victims was hit with a bombing. It "came hours after a massacre was committed by fighter jets in the city," the observatory said. The BBC cited a doctor as confirming the second strike. Russia denies its planes were active in the region at the time.

"A new and particularly serious chemical attack took place this morning in Idlib province. The first information suggests a large number of victims, including children. I condemn this disgusting act," Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a statement.

"In the face of such serious actions that threaten international security, I ask for everyone not to shirk their responsibilities. With this in mind, I ask for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council," he added.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also condemned the lethal incident during talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the suspected gas attack on Syria's rebel-held Idlib on Tuesday, Turkish presidential sources said.

"President Erdogan touched on the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Idlib. President Erdogan said such inhumane attacks are unacceptable," a statement attributed to presidential sources said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also condemned the attack, calling it a "crime against humanity", saying it could derail current efforts at brokering a calm in the destructive civil war.

Meanwhile, Russia said its planes did not carry out air strikes in Idlib, RIA news agency quoted Russia's Defense Ministry as saying on Tuesday. "Russian military aircraft carried out no air strikes near Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib province," RIA quoted the ministry as saying. 

They said the two leaders had also emphasized the importance of maintaining the ongoing ceasefire in Syria.

It was not immediately clear what action France, a permanent member of the Security Council, wanted to be taken.

In February, Western powers put forward the resolution in response to the results of an investigation by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). 

The international inquiry found Syrian government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks and that Islamic State militants had used mustard gas. 

"The use of chemical weapons constitutes an unacceptable violation of the convention against chemical weapons and is another example of the barbarity that the Syrian people have been under for so many years," Ayrault said.

Before a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss aid for Syria, Ayrault said Europe could not play a role in the country's reconstruction without a credible transition.