"When the first volunteer team responded to the airstrike, they had no idea it was a chemical attack. They were all poisoned.
Then the second team arrived, and we started to rescue the wounded and injured. There were so many affected. The situation required a response far beyond our means and we couldn’t rescue everyone. We resorted to using fire hoses to wash the deadly chemicals from children’s bodies.
That chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun was only the beginning. Four hours later our rescue teams were targeted in several areas. Our centre in Khan Shaykhun itself was hit by six airstrikes, and the nearby Al Rahma hospital was struck by four. Both were completely destroyed. There were attacks throughout Idlib province which paralysed our teams and our ability to respond.
The images in the media showing our teams responding to the chemical attack provoked a violent reaction from the Syrian regime. Several more teams and centres were deliberately targeted. On Friday, our centre in Jisr al Shughur was hit, killing two of our volunteers and injuring three. One of the strikes was so severe that we couldn’t find the body parts of our colleague to bury him.
The world has now moved on from thinking about our chemical weapons victims.
All the talk is now about the strikes against Shayrat air base, the one used in the poison gas attack. We hoped that targeting that air base would limit the killing. But we notice that the strike hasn’t been taken seriously and yesterday regime warplanes took off from the very same airbase.
To protect civilians in Syria we need all of these planes to be stopped.
While they fly, the regime continues to bomb civilians with all kinds of weapons. There have been more than 120 chemical attacks in the past few years, not to mention the use of banned weapons like cluster bombs and ‘bunker busters’ in residential areas.
We need safe areas in Syria so that we can get our lives back. People here want neighbourhoods where their children can go to school, where some semblance of normal life can return.
We need swift, serious, and genuine steps from countries around the world to bring to justice those who used chemical weapons against civilians in Khan Shaykhun, Ghouta, and so many other places in Syria.
It is my sincere hope that for the first time in more than six years, the world will listen to Syrian civilians and take steps to stop this killing for good.
As always, thank you for your solidarity."
- Raed al Saleh, Head of the Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets)
You can donate to the White Helmets here: https://peoplesmillion.whitehelmets.org/donate/peoples-million?source=rsfb
(Photo: Ammar Abdullah/Reuters - a civil defence member breathes through an oxygen mask after gas attack in Khan Shaykhun)