BEIRUT — Autopsies conducted by Turkish doctors on Thursday have confirmed that chemical weapons were used in an attack which killed scores of people in Syria two days earlier, providing the most concrete evidence to date of why so many people were killed.
Dozens of victims from Tuesday's daybreak assault on the northwestern town of Khan Sheikhoun have been evacuated to Turkey for medical treatment. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the World Health Organisation had supervised autopsies for three people, and that chemical agents had been detected.
His comments came after Doctors Without Borders said that patients had shown symptoms consistent with exposure to a nerve agent, the use of which has previously caused the United States to threaten military intervention.
At least 70 people were killed in the attack, which eyewitnesses described as a fog of chemicals which enveloped men, women, and young children, leaving many to suffocate, choke, or foam at the mouth.
Outside a hospital in the southern Turkish city of Reyhanli on Wednesday, medics in hazmat suits washed a newly arrived patient before ferrying him inside on a gurney.
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem denied on Thursday that it had used chemical weapons in the past and maintained that it never would.
He added that rebel groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State have been storing chemical weapons brought from Iraq and Turkey in residential areas.
Russia, for its part, has backed the Syrian claim that the possible chemical attack resulted from an airstrike on rebel munitions.
On Wednesday, President Trump accused Syrian Bashar Assad's government of going "beyond a red line" with the attack on civilians, and suggested that his anti-interventionist stance towards the conflict may be changing.
But there were few indications of what that might mean in practice. Syria's complex conflict has paralyzed a divided United Nations Security Council and left Western leaders reluctant to face the possible consequences of military intervention against Assad.
In an interview published Thursday, Assad insisted that a military victory was the government's only option. "We have no choice in facing this war, and that's why we are confident, we are persistent and we are determined," he told Vecernji List, a Croatian newspaper. His comments appeared to have come before Tuesday's attack.