Bel Trew, Cairo
A Syrian father who told his wife to take their babies and hide from the warplanes unwittingly sent all three of them to their deaths.
Abdelhamid al-Youssef, 29, left his loved ones with a paramedic when he saw a missile strike near his parents’ home in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. He told his family before he left: take cover.
Delal, following her husband’s advice, carried their nine-month-old twins Ahmed and Aya to the basement of the building, normally the safest place in an airstrike. This time, however, the warplanes shrieking overhead had dropped nerve gas — which, because it is heavier than air, quickly began to pool at the bottom of the apartment block, suffocating them.
“Hours later rescuers found them in a basement near our house, dead, with foam in the noses and mouths,” Mr Youssef told The Times. “When I saw them —” he began, before breaking off into a shaky prayer. “I did not expect that. Oh God!”
He lost 22 members of his family to the nerve gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in the northwest province of Idlib, last Tuesday. The toxic bomb, containing what Turkish officials confirmed yesterday was sarin gas, had landed on their street.
The image of Mr Youssef weeping over the hastily dug graves of his wife and babies was one of the most heartbreaking of the many which emerged after the attack. Another, showing him carrying his dead twins swaddled in white funerary cloths, summed up the horror of the killings.
Eighty-six people, 30 of them children, were killed and 540 injured in the attack, widely attributed to the Assad regime. Fighter jets returned hours after the chemical attack and bombed the Rahma hospital where the wounded were being treated, perhaps in the hope of destroying any evidence that chemical weapons had been used.