Hospitals and medical facilities in Syria's Idlib province are so overstretched that they are unable to cope after Tuesday's suspected sarin gas attack that left dozens dead and hundreds injured, a top provincial health official told TRT World on Wednesday,
The use of chemical weapons is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations said it would investigate the early morning attack that has drawn international condemnation.
“If there is any new attack in Idlib province, it will be catastrophic. There is no capacity for us to receive any new patients at all,” the head of the Idlib Province Health Directorate, Dr Monzer Khalil, said on Wednesday.
A statement from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Tuesday said UN investigators are “in process of gathering and analysing information from all available sources.”
Khalil said his organisation had not been contacted but his staff have already been collecting samples that could be given to UN chemical weapons inspectors.
Air strikes in Khan Shaykhun, Salqeen and Jisr Al Shughour came within hours of each other early on Tuesday, sending medics scrambling to treat victims.
Khalil put the latest death toll at 73 people; 25 were children. At least 30 more people were killed in the strikes in Salqeen and Jisr Al Shughour, close to the Turkish border.
Of the 35 hospitals officially run by Idlib’s Local Council, the administrative arm of the opposition Syrian Interim Government, only five are still in operation after persistent attacks over the past month. Those that remain are desperately short of medical equipment, respirators and the protective suits that doctors need to avoid contamination by chemical agents.
In the civil war, now in its seventh year, the Syrian Civil Defence or the White Helmets have been among the only medical personnel to respond to bombings and air strikes in opposition held areas. But their numbers have since dropped to less than 100 as they become casualties in the conflict.
Four members of the White Helmets injured in the attacks were taken to Turkey's Reyhanli State Hospital for treatment. Three have subsequently died.
UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura, speaking from Brussels, hinted that available reports strongly suggested that the Syrian Air Force was responsible for the chemical strike, which came “from the air.”
The Russian Ministry of Defence said that its planes had not conducted any operations in the vicinity of Khan Shaykhun Tuesday.