Syrian attack strongly suggests exposure to toxic nerve agent

Suspected gas attack

Even by the horrors of the Syrian civil war, what happened Tuesday will stand out as a crime against humanity. More than 50 civilians, including women and children, were killed and about 300 others wounded by what appears to be nerve gas -- a weapon banned by the civilized world.

The attack came five days after the Trump administration signaled that the Syrian dictator would not be held accountable for the slaughter of his people.

Trump's White House condemns Obama, Russia, Iran for Syria attacks

The Trump administration said Bashar al-Assad could remain in power -- a reversal of Obama-era policy that said Assad had to go. 

Despite the appeasing change in policy, Mr. Trump blamed Tuesday’s attack on President Obama -- calling it a “consequence of the past administration’s weakness.” 

The attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun bears the telltale signs consistent with a chemical weapon inflicted on civilians, apparently including infants.

We can’t independently confirm that this was a chemical attack, but many of the victims have no visible wounds, as you’d normally expect from an airstrike or missile. Survivors pant and gasp for air -- some of them foaming at the mouth -- and a medic demonstrated how his patients’ pupils don’t respond to light.

“That all strongly suggests exposure to a toxic nerve agent,” the medic says. 

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A child gasps and pants for air after a suspected nerve gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib province, Syria. CBS News

The Syrian regime denies any involvement, but Idlib province is a Syrian rebel stronghold, regularly pounded with airstrikes by the regime and its ally, Russia.

Suspicion will also fall on the regime because of an earlier chemical attack, in August 2013, thought to have killed hundreds. The U.N.’s chemical weapons watchdog concluded it was sarin nerve gas, which the U.S. and several of its allies blamed on the Syrian regime.

Russia also denied any involvement in Tuesday’s attack. Its direct intervention in the Syrian civil war has propped up the regime and helped it win back territory -- but it hasn’t come close to ending this conflict and nightmarish scenes like these in Khan Sheikhoun. 

The U.N. chemical weapons watchdog has already begun investigating Tuesday’s attack, though the security situation inside Syria will make gathering evidence difficult. The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday.