At 6:30 am on 4 April 2017, the residents of Khan Sheikhun woke up to a massacre carried out by Syrian regime aircraft using chemical weapons. Residential neighbourhoods were attacked with missiles equipped with sarin nerve gas, causing at least 91 deaths - including 23 women and 32 children - and at least 400 injuries. Sarin is a human-made chemical warfare agent.
Syrian regime forces had previously used sarin and nerve gas against the population of Eastern Ghouta and Muadamiyat al-Sham (Damascus countryside) on 21 August 2013, killing more than a thousand - most of whom women and children - and injuring more than six thousand.
Khan Sheikhun is a Syrian town in northwestern Syria and is administratively part of Idlib Governorate. It has an area of 28 hectares and is located 35 km away from Hama, 100 km from Aleppo, and 70 km from Idlib. In 2011 - before the outbreak of the Syrian revolution - it had a population of nearly 53,000.
The strategically located town connects the northern countryside of Hama and the southern countryside of Idlib, and it is situated on the international Damascus-Aleppo highway (M5).
Following the massacre, major countries of the world were quick to condemn the incident. The United States accused the Syrian regime of carrying out the attack, with the White House decrying the “horrifying barbarism of Bashar al-Assad.”
Former French President Francois Holland held the Syrian regime responsible for the massacre. On 12 April 2017, Russia vetoed a UN draft resolution providing for an international investigation into the Khan Sheikhun attack.
On 29 June 2017, the International Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that sarin gas was indeed used in the attack on Khan Sheikhun, but it did not specify any responsible party.
On 26 October 2017, a United Nations expert panel report confirmed the responsibility of the Syrian regime for the attack. The joint report of the UN and the OPCW stated that the “panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Sheikhun.”
The UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that “expert investigators reache[d] a clear conclusion: the Assad regime used sarin nerve gas against the people of Khan Sheikhun in Syria […] with tragic consequences for hundreds of victims.”
On 22 August 2019, the regime forces and its affiliated militias entered the town, with air support provided by Russian air force, thereby concluding a large-scale bombing campaign that had started in February 2019, used various weapons, targeted civilian infrastructure, and caused widespread destruction in the town and the displacement of its population to safer areas.