The head of European diplomacy, Federica Mogherini, said that the regime of Bashar al-Assad bears “primary responsibility” for the chemical attack in a rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern Syria. At least 70 people were killed and hundreds suffered symptoms consistent with reaction to a nerve agent after what Western powers said it a Syrian government air strike was to blame. According to the Russian version, an air strike hit a rebel depot full of chemical munitions.
Mrs. Mogherini said that “this is a dramatic reminder of the fact that the situation on the ground still continues to be dramatic in many different parts of Syria” on the sidelines of an EU-UN conference (4-5 April) that was meant to discuss the post-conflict reconstruction in Syria. She made it clear that a primary responsibility lay with the regime first and foremost “because it has the primary responsibility of protecting its people and not attacking its people.” Mrs. Mogherini also stressed that “the issue of accountability is key for the EU but also for the conference itself.”
The regime of Bashar al-Assad and the rebels blame each other for the previous chemical attacks while the international community says that Mr. Assad is responsible. Russia, who supports the regime, says there is no direct evidence to back up these allegations. In 2013, Washington and Moscow reached an agreement to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons to avoid US air strikes against the Assad regime following a sarin attack that killed more than 1,400 people.
The EU and UN were co-chairing a two-day conference as a follow-up to last year’s gathering in London that raised 10 billion euros for aid programs. This year’s meeting went beyond humanitarian assistance and looked at “post-agreement assistance” and post-war reconstruction. While Mrs. Mogherini admitted that it was “surreal” to talk about post-conflict situation in the middle of the conflict, she said that “you hear this more than anything else, they want peace and want to get out of this terrible situation”.