In Brussels, donors convened by the European Union met for a conference to raise money for humanitarian relief. Last year’s meeting saw more than $12 billion in pledges, but given the scale of the suffering today — five million refugees, more than a quarter of Syria’s prewar population — any additional aids seems unlikely to suffice.
The war in Syria has taken nearly 400,000 lives. The death toll from the attack on Tuesday, on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province, rose to 72, monitors said, but rescue workers continued to look for and help survivors, some hiding in shelters. The dead included roughly 20 children.
The health minister in Turkey, where some victims of the attack were taken, reported that nearly 30 victims were being treated in the country. Two died while receiving treatment in Hatay Province, in southern Turkey.
The first known use of chemicals as weapons in Syria’s civil war came in 2012, and the attack on Tuesday was the most devastating since an August 2013 assault around the town of Ghouta that left hundreds dead and challenged President Barack Obama’s declaration that the use of chemical weapons would amount to a “red line.”
Mr. Obama considered a more direct American intervention in the conflict, but he ultimately decided against one.
“Doctors in Idlib are reporting that dozens of patients suffering from breathing difficulties and suffocation have been admitted to hospitals in the governorate for urgent medical attention, many of them women and children,” the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.
“Reports first emerged of the use of chemical weapons agents in Syria in 2012 and have since occurred with disturbing frequency,” the organization added, “including repeated allegations of chlorine use in and around Aleppo last year, especially from September to December 2016.”
Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of the organization’s Health Emergencies Program, said in a statement, “These types of weapons are banned by international law because they represent an intolerable barbarism.”
Hospitals in the Khan Sheikhoun area have limited capacity, and Al Rahma Hospital — the first to treat victims of the attack — was itself temporarily rendered inoperable by bombing on Tuesday.
Another facility in the area, Ma’ara Hospital, “has been out of service since last Sunday because of extensive damage to infrastructure,” the World Health Organization reported. “Emergency rooms and intensive care units in Idlib are overwhelmed and reporting shortages in medicines required to treat injured patients. Many patients have been referred to hospitals in southern Turkey.”
The organization also said that some of the victims showed symptoms “consistent with exposure to organophosphorus chemicals, a category of chemicals that includes nerve agents.”
Western governments, including the Trump administration, have blamed Mr. Assad for the attack, but the Syrian leadership and Russia, one of its principal backers, have denied any responsibility.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that a Syrian airstrike had hit a bomb-making “terrorist warehouse” that housed toxic substances.
In 2013, Mr. Trump urged Mr. Obama on Twitter, “Do NOT attack Syria, fix U.S.A.” But on Tuesday, even as the American president called the Syrian attack a “heinous” massacre that “cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” he blamed his predecessor, saying in a statement, “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”
Even as the wrangling in Washington continued, the center of diplomatic efforts seemed to be at the United Nations, where Western officials feared that Russia would use the veto power it has as a permanent member of the Security Council to block condemnation of the latest attack.
The German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, called on Russia to endorse a planned Security Council resolution condemning the attack.
The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, on Tuesday to express condolences for the St. Petersburg subway bombing this week, used the occasion to condemn the attack in Syria.
“He noted that this barbaric act should not go unpunished and recalled that the international community as a whole should take responsibility and work to establish facts and responsibilities,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Arriving at the Brussels conference — co-sponsored by the United Nations, Britain, Germany, Kuwait, Norway and Qatar — Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, said it was impossible to imagine Mr. Assad’s “barbaric regime” continuing after the conflict ends.
Mr. Johnson also suggested that Mr. Assad and his government should be held accountable for war crimes, regardless of whether Russia was involved in the latest chemical attack.
The strike “confirms to everyone that this is a barbaric regime that has made it impossible for us to imagine them being in authority of Syria after this conflict is over,” Mr. Johnson said, adding that Britain and France had called for the Security Council to meet in an emergency session.
Federica Mogherini, the European Union foreign policy chief, said she had been deeply shaken by the images of child victims of the chemical attack.
“What we have seen yesterday has horrified all of us,” she told reporters. “I can say this as a politician, but first of all as a mother.”
The priority in Brussels was to “repledge” funds to help Syrians inside the country as well as those who had fled to nearby countries like Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, she said.
Delegates from those countries at the Brussels conference said they already faced immense strains, and they called on the European Union to do much more to help them to bear the burden of a crisis caused by the displacement of millions of Syrians.
“Jordan is fatigued and has reached its maximum carrying capacity,” Hani al-Mulki, the prime minister of Jordan, said at the conference. “Without the continued support of the international community, this will negatively impact our overstretched ability to continue providing necessary services to Syrians while maintaining service levels without adversely affecting Jordanian citizens or risking our hard-earned development gains.”
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