The Latest: Turkey says Syrian victims bore signs of sarin

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the suspected chemical attack in Syria (all times local):

5 p.m.

Turkey says initial tests of samples from victims of a suspected chemical attack in northern Syria indicate they were exposed to sarin gas, a highly toxic nerve agent.

The Turkish Health Ministry said Thursday that “according to the results of the first analysis, there were findings suggesting that the patients were exposed to chemical substance (Sarin),” without elaborating.

The attack on Tuesday killed more than 80 people and sickened dozens more, many of whom are being treated across the border in Turkey.

The Trump administration and others have said the attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun was carried out by government forces, allegations denied by Damascus.

The Turkish Health Ministry said the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons would also test the samples.


3:20 p.m.

Germany has welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s strong condemnation of a chemical attack in Syria.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel says Trump’s statement Wednesday criticizing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government is “positive.”

He says European countries were worried about earlier U.S. comments suggesting that ensuring Assad leaves office was a lesser priority than fighting the Islamic State group.

Gabriel said Thursday those comments “irritated us in Europe at the time.”

He says “apart from the war on terror, it’s just as important to achieve a constitutional reform in Syria and free elections, and of course that can’t mean Assad staying in power permanently.”

Still, Gabriel warned against a military escalation and urged the U.S. to support U.N.-backed talks.

Germany has taken in 600,000 Syrian refugees in recent years.


3 p.m.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Tugrul Turkes says he is unconvinced by Russia’s claim that Syrians killed in a northern town were the victims of toxic agents that were released by a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal.

Turkes spoke in an interview with Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency on Thursday. He described the Russian explanation as “unfulfilling.”

Turkes says that “if the Syrian regime knew that there were chemical weapons in the warehouse, it should have also known that it should not have attacked it.”

He added that there is “no excuse. To me, this is evidence that strengthens the fact that it was the work of the (Syrian) regime and that it was an attack against civilians.”

Earlier, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said in Damascus toxic agents were released after the Syrian army bombed a warehouse belonging to the al-Qaida’s branch in Syria that contained chemical weapons


2:30 p.m.

The top humanitarian aid official with the U.N.’s Syria office says he believes an awareness of the need to protect civilians is “sinking in” after a deadly chemical weapons attack this week in Syria’s northern Idlib province.

Jan Egeland expressed hopes for a “watershed moment” with “all of these world leaders saying that say they have again woken up to the suffering of the civilians that we see every day.”

Egeland spoke to reporters on Thursday after a meeting of the U.N.’s humanitarian “task force” for Syria.

He said the world body needs a “green light” to reach 1 million people in hard-to-reach and besieged areas of the war-torn country. He also called for 72-hour cease fires in the key zones of fighting so aid can get in, and protection for hospitals and evacuees who choose to leave violent areas voluntarily


2:10 p.m.

The Kremlin says differences with Washington over the use of chemical weapons in Syria are unlikely to worsen U.S.-Russia relations.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned the West on Thursday against rushing to blame Syrian President Bashar Assad for the attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria.

He says the West lacks objective evidence against Assad, and materials presented by Syrian activist White Helmets first-responder team cannot serve as a proof.

Peskov says that Russia believes “that the use of chemical weapons is absolutely inadmissible.” He added that the Syrian army must act to “prevent any chemical agents that can be used as weapons from falling into the terrorists’ hands.”

The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed that residents of Khan Sheikhoun have been exposed to chemicals contained in rebels’ chemical arsenal struck in a Syrian air raid.


1:45 p.m.

Syria’s foreign minister says Damascus needs assurances that any fact- finding mission into Idlib’s attack would be impartial and not politicized.

Walid Moallem says Syria’s experience with past missions is “not encouraging.”

He told a press conference in the Syrian capital on Thursday that any investigative mission would need to take off from Damascus and be far from the sphere of Turkish influence.

Moallem was asked if Syria would accept an international investigation. He said that “when we are sure we have convincing answers to these questions, we will give you an answer.”

He also said that Syria provides the United Nations with intel about the transport of chemical weapons by “terrorists” between Iraq and Syria.


1:35 p.m.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson says he cannot understand how anyone on the U.N. Security Council could fail to sign up to a resolution condemning the chemical weapons attack this week that killed dozens in northern Syria.

Johnson said on Thursday during a visit to Sarajevo that he “cannot understand how anybody on the U.N. Security Council could fail to sign up to a motion condemning the actions of the (Assad) regime that is almost certainly responsible for that crime.”

Johnson described the attack that killed more than 80 people in Syria’s Idlib province as “abominable and contemptible” and said “those who did it deserve international condemnation.”

He says “work is now going on in New York on the exact language (of the resolution) and I think we should have no hesitation in forcing it to a vote.”

Russia argued at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday against holding Assad’s government responsible, with Moscow insisting a Syrian air strike had hit a rebel ammunition store that held chemical weapons.


1:25 p.m.

The Syrian foreign minister is categorically denying his government used chemical weapons in the attack this week in Idlib province or in any other attack.

Walid Moallem told reporters at a press conference in Damascus on Thursday that “the Syrian Arab Army has never used chemical weapons and will not use chemical weapons against Syrians and even against terrorists.”

He says the Syrian army bombed a warehouse for al-Qaida’s branch in Syria that contained chemical weapons, echoing the Russian defense ministry’s claim.

He denounced the “chorus” of accusations against Syria, which he says was launched by countries known for their hostility.

Moallem also says Israel is the “main beneficiary” of these accusations.


11:45 a.m.

France’s foreign minister is urging for a resumption of Syria peace talks and wants President Bashar Assad’s government prosecuted over its alleged use of chemical weapons.

Jean-Marc Ayrault told CNews television on Thursday that a new U.N. resolution and Syrian peace negotiations should be a top priority — not rushing into new military interventions.

Ayrault says that “France is still seeking to talk with its partners on the Security Council … Russia in particular.”

Russia argued at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday against holding Assad’s government responsible for a chemical weapons attack this week that killed more than 80 people in Idlib province.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned that the Trump administration would take action if the Security Council did not.

Ayrault says “these crimes must not remain unpunished. … One day, international justice will rule on Assad.”


11:40 a.m.

Turkish media are quoting Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag as saying that results from autopsies conducted on three Syrians brought to Turkey after this week’s assault in Idlib province show they were subjected to a chemical weapons attack.

The private DHA news agency quotes Bozdag as saying on Thursday that “it was determined after the autopsy that a chemical weapon was used.”

More than 80 people were killed in the suspected chemical attack on Tuesday in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. Turkish officials say that close to 60 victims of the attack were brought to Turkey for treatment and three of them died.

Turkish media have also reported that World Health Organization experts had taken part in the autopsies conducted in a hospital in the Turkish city of Adana late on Wednesday on Syrian victims.


10:45 a.m.

The head of Israel’s Holocaust memorial is urging world leaders to end to the atrocities in Syria following a chemical weapon attack that killed dozens of civilians this week.

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev on Thursday 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.

About 6 million Jews were murdered in the systematic Nazi effort to kill all the Jews of Europe during WWII.


10:30 a.m.

Israel’s defense minister says he is “100 percent certain” that President Bashar Assad’s forces carried out the chemical attacks in Syria this week that killed dozens of civilians.

Avigdor Lieberman told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper on Thursday the attacks were conducted under Assad’s “direct and intentional order” and carried out with Syrian planes.

He gave no proof to support his position but his remarks mesh with earlier assessments from Israeli defense officials who said military intelligence believes Assad’s forces were behind the assault that killed 86.

The attacks in neighboring Syria have worried Israel, which has warned against “game-changing” weapons reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon from Syria, which along with Iran supports the militant group.

Channel 2 TV reported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security Cabinet will convene later in the day to discuss the latest developments in Syria and their ramifications for Israel.


5:15 a.m.

The United Nations humanitarian chief says that 41 donors have pledged $6 billion to help people in need in 2017 amid the Syrian crisis.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said what is now needed is to see the pledges turned into “cash for action” as soon as possible.

O’Brien welcomed the pledges, which came at a regional conference in Brussels in Wednesday.

He says that “the needs have never been greater and the requirements have never been higher for the Syria crisis.”

He added that the conference was “a momentous opportunity for much of the world to come together to commit more support and solidarity for Syrians and those affected across the region.”

Another $3.7 billion was pledged for 2018 and beyond.