Paris: Suspected chemical attacks killed at least 100 people in Syria's rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib on Tuesday and left over 400 suffering from respiratory problems, a Syria medical relief group said.
The number of deaths is likely to rise, according to the Union of Medical Care Organizations, a coalition of international aid agencies that funds hospitals in Syria and which is partly based in Paris.
The group said the village of Khan Sheikhoun to the south of Idlib had initially been hit before strikes on the White Helmets emergency services centre in Khan Sheikhoun and the Al-Rahme hospital.
"We have seen more than 40 strikes since 06h30," it said. "The toll continues to increase as do the strikes in the Idlib region as well as non-chemical attacks in Hama," the group said.
The Syrian Observatory reported that strikes on Khan Sheikhoun by the Syrian government or Russian jets had caused many people to choke. Local opposition activists and media outlets posted pictures of those they said had died of asphyxiation.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons. However, an investigation by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded last October that government forces had used chlorine as a weapon at least three times between 2014 and 2015. It also found Islamic State militants had used the blister agent sulfur mustard.
The Syrian Observatory cited medical sources in Khan Sheikhoun as reporting that the symptoms among those affected by Tuesday morning's attack included fainting, vomiting and foaming at the mouth.
The victims were mostly civilians, including at least nine children, the monitoring group said. According to the BBC, the pro-opposition Edlib Media Centre (EMC) posted a large number of photographs of people receiving treatment, as well as images showing what appeared to be the bodies of at least seven children in the back of a pick-up truck.
United Nations has formally launched an investigation in the aftermath of the attack.
United Nations war crimes investigators said on Tuesday they were looking into an alleged chemical weapons attack on a Syrian town in Idlib as well as reports of a subsequent attack on a medical facility where injured people were being treated.
World leaders have very profoundly come out in condemning the attack.
French President Francois Hollande directly blamed Syrian government forces for a suspected chemical weapons attack in rebel-held areas of northern Syria and said his allies were emboldening him to act with impunity.
"Once again the Syrian regime will deny the evidence of its responsibility in this massacre. Like in 2013, Bashar al-Assad counts on the complicity of his allies to act with impunity," Hollande said in a statement on Tuesday.
France also wants an emergency meeting be held of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for a discussion on the gas attack.
EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said Tuesday the regime of Bashar al-Assad bears “primary responsibility” for a suspected chemical attack that killed at least 58 people in a rebel-held town in Idlib, Syria including 11 children under the age of eight on Tuesday.
“Today the news is awful,” Mogherini said in an interview with media organisations in Brussels on the sidelines of a EU-UN conference that was meant to focus on the post-conflict situation in Syria.
A Syrian military source strongly denied the army had used any such weapons.