Syrian survivors of sarin attack grieve one year on

ChannelNews Asia, 02 Apr 2018

On his
wedding anniversary on Wednesday, 29-year-old Syrian Abdulhamid Yusuf will have
nothing to mark but a chemical attack that killed his wife and two baby
Yusuf, who lost 19 members of his family, including his wife and two children
in a chemical attack, visits the graves of his relatives in Khan Sheikhun, on
March 31, 2018 AFP/Omar Haj Kadour

Sheikun – At least 80 people were killed on Apr 4 last year, on Yusuf and
his wife’s anniversary, when war planes dropped sarin gas on his hometown of
Khan Sheikhun in northwest Syria.

chemical assault on the rebel-held town was one of the most shocking of Syria’s
seven-year war, causing global outrage and rare retaliatory air strikes by the
been deprived of part of my body, of my soul,” says the young widower,
breaking into tears as he sits in the garden of his now empty home.
An image
of Yusuf holding the lifeless bodies of his 11-month-old twins – Aya and Ahmad
– spread around the world in the wake of the attack.
also lost his wife Dalal and 16 other relatives, including his brother, nephew
and many cousins.
As Yusuf
visits the cemetery to weed the graves of his loved ones twelve months on, his
grief and anger is still raw.
won’t be able to start over. I won’t forget the past,” he says.
Sheikhun lies in Syria’s Idlib province, the last in the country to remain
largely beyond the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
UN war
crimes investigators said they have evidence Syrian government forces were
responsible for the deadly attack on Khan Sheikhun, but the allegations have
been rejected by Damascus and its ally Russia.
want the international community to take a strong stand … Assad needs to pay”,
Yusuf says.
The early
morning raid last year killed more than 80 people including 30 children, the
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
said they saw people drop to the ground, convulsing violently, some with white
foam pouring out of their mouths.
al-Yusuf, 20, lost both his parents and two young brothers – Mohammed and
Anwar – on a day he says he will never forget.

mother had woken him up to perform morning prayers before he headed out to work
on his grandfather’s land.
After the
strikes hit, he rushed back home to find his neighbour sitting on the ground,
shaking uncontrollably and incapable of talking – but staring straight at him.
never forget that day or those details,” says the young man with a short
haircut, who now runs the family’s convenience store on his own.
lost all my family – everything that was dearest to me.”
He clings
on to their memory even as he adapts to his new life alone.
I’m coming or going at home, I always see them in front of me.”
World is
deadly strikes on Khan Sheikhun sparked international condemnation and caused
the United States to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield
allegedly used in the attack.
But the
bereaved residents feel nothing more substantial has been done to hold those
responsible to account.
al-Jawhara, a 24-year-old with blond hair and blue eyes, lost his parents,
nephew and several cousins.
was such a shock. How do you bear seeing them all die in a single day?”
The Khan
Sheikhun attack was yet another low point in seven years of Syria’s war, which
started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
rounds of UN-backed talks have failed to stem the fighting, and Russia-backed
regime forces have instead made significant military gains across the country.
expresses frustration at what he sees as the insufficient response of the
international community in holding Assad to account.
hoped he would be tried and have to pay” for what he did, says the
student, who aims to be a teacher one day.
leaders “have made statement after statement, but in the end they have
been weak.”