First Published: 2017-07-13

Syrians in Khan Sheikhun pay respects to victims
April 4 chemical incident in opposition-held northwestern town killed at least 87 people, including children, prompting first US strike on Syrian regime troops.
Middle East Online

Syrian man prays on July 12, 2017 at a cemetery in Khan Sheikhun

KHAN SHEIKHUN - One hundred days after deadly sarin hit their Syrian hometown, residents of Khan Sheikhun shuttered their shops and solemnly payed their respects to the victims at their modest cemetery.

The April 4 attack on the opposition-held northwestern town killed at least 87 people, including children, and prompted the first US strike on Syrian government troops.

On Wednesday, relatives of the victims gathered in a semi-circle at the reported site of the attack, holding up pictures of their loved ones -- many of them toddlers.

"The pain of separation has not left me for a single second -- not me, nor any of those who lost a relative or loved one," said Abdulhamid Youssef, 28.

His twin toddlers, his wife and 19 other relatives died on April 4.

A heartbreaking picture of Youssef, shellshocked and holding the lifeless bodies of his children on the day of the attack, sparked worldwide outrage.

"All I hope for is that my children are the last ones who will be killed. Pain is hard. Separation is hard. I hope that this is the conclusion of Syria's sorrows," he said.

He visited his children's graves as dusk fell, pulling out weeds from around their simple markers.

Nearby, an elderly man crouched on the ground, and rocked back and forth in silence while staring at a tombstone.

The United Nations' chemical weapons watchdog, the OPCW, concluded last month that sarin was used as a chemical weapon in Khan Sheikhun.

The report did not assign blame for the attack, but many -- from Western powers to the town's own residents -- put the blame squarely with the government of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

"I had hoped that the pain would disappear with the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad and an end to the violence in Syria," Youssef said, but today an end to the conflict is still nowhere in sight.

Locals called for a general strike in the town, and shopkeepers closed their businesses to stand in solidarity with victims' families.

Residents were "trying to draw the international community's attention to the fact that the regime that committed this crime and most crimes in Syria remains free", said Mohammad Ahmad Maarati, who heads the local administrative council.

An joint OPCW-UN team will now be responsible for determining who carried out the attack on Khan Sheikhun.

The team has already concluded that Syrian government forces were responsible for chlorine attacks on three villages in 2014 and 2015, and that the Islamic State used mustard gas in 2015.

 

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