After hundreds of civilians were apparently killed in what rebels say was a chemical weapon attack in Syria yesterday, United Nations representatives are calling for investigation, action, and reactions of "force."
Anti-regime groups are now saying that over 1,300 people were killed in Wednesday's attacks (yesterday the numbers ranged from 100 to 800). Many of the victims were women and children, captured in horrific video footage. If the assault used chemical gas, it would be one of only a small handful of chemical attacks on civilian populations since the Holocaust.
A U.N. Security Council meeting was called late Wednesday evening to discuss the violence. Russia and China, allies of the Syrian government, blocked any formal resolution.
Just a few hours after the closed meeting, the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that if the claims are true, then "a reaction of force must be taken[…] If the U.N. Security Council cannot do it, decisions will be made otherwise."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called for the U.N. to act, saying "all red lines" have been crossed. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle requested more efforts to confirm the attacks, saying "I regret that Russia and China have blocked a formal resolution of the Security Council." The U.S. has noted a "deep concern" about these allegations and also calls for the U.N. to "urgently investigate."
Meanwhile, Bashar Al-Assad's government is still saying that the claims of chemical weapons attacks are "completely baseless."
The use of chemical weapons on either side would violate international humanitarian law. (The BBC has a timeline regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria.) There is a slim chance that U.N. chemical weapons inspectors will be able to access the site of the attacks in time, as many chemical agents like sarin need to be examined within a few days. The Syrian government, backed by Russia, is resisting pleas to give inspectors access to the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where the toxic gas attacks ostensibly took place.
The ongoing battles in Syria have claimed over 100,000 people's lives so far and displaced millions.
[image of Syrian women in Beirut, at vigil mourning the alleged chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of Damascus, via AP]