They’re the images that have gone viral for the most horrible of reasons. Heart-wrenching photos of young children, some dead, some desperately fighting for life in the wake of the horrific sarin attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria.
The photos were aired on the The Project last night and hosts Carrie Bickmore and Waleed Aly were left lost for words.
“I don’t think I have anything optimistic to say about it,” said Waleed.
“Sorry ... I know I was going to start this conversation, but I can’t watch those images,” Bickmore said, fighting back the tears. “I know that our tears, our feeling so sad, they aren’t going to do anything.
“And I know us sitting here in safe Australia, us feeling sad for these people doesn’t change anything. “What can Trump do? Will he change his mind? Will he act?”
“He’s manoeuvred himself into a hopeless situation as far as responding to this is concerned,” Aly said about President Trump.
“His relentless focus on ISIL as being the only thing that matters in the Middle East has meant that he effectively has been saying very nice things about the al-Assad regime. He is effectively backing the way they respond to ISIL and taking the fight to terrorism and that sort of stuff and it overlooks that this is what goes on in this war.”
One of the photos the pair were referring to was that of grieving father Abdulhamid al-Youssef, cradling his dead twins, Ahmed and Aiya.
Within a few hours, the photos of the young father cradling the lifeless bodies of his two children had been catapulted around the world.
“Do u still doubt that Sarin is being used on us? Will anyone care?! Who will stop it?” one Syria doctor tweeted yesterday.
But these are far from the only heart-wrenching images to emerge from yesterday’s chemical weapons attack.
Photos of small children writhing in pain on the ground or slumped in mute agony on hospital beds are being posted on news sites around the world.
They are confronting. But they are not as horrific as video footage of small bodies – some still wearing nappies – being loaded on to the back of trucks.
The images are difficult to look at.
But we must.
It’s estimated that a dozen small children were killed in the chemical attack, which left 70 dead and many more injured.
Syrian’s Foreign Ministry has denied involvement in the attack. Russia has also defended the Syrian regime, blaming rebels for the attack, and saying that a chemical weapons dump was targeted by airstrikes, resulting in chemicals escaping. However, others have dismissed this explanation as implausible.
Last night, at an emergency UN Security Council meeting, Western countries condemned the attack.
US President Donald Trump – who has previously said that Syria was “not America’s problem” – came out, hard, against Assad and threatened action.
The deaths of the children were “horrible” he said and as a result his “attitude toward [Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad] had changed very much”.
Hearing these kind of reports and seeing these horrific images can make you feel helpless. But there are ways to help.
How you can help
Over the next few days you'll almost certainly be encouraged to like a Facebook post or donate money, but journalists Sophie McNeil of the ABC and veteran war correspondent Janine di Giovanni say the singular most important thing you can do is to get informed about the Syrian civil war and then exert pressure on Australia to act.
“This is the first step, because when people are aware they can make a louder noise," says Di Giovanni, who wrote The Morning They Came For Us, Dispatches from Syria. "They will be angry and sad and they will feel the need to do something – like writing a letter. These things add up."
Di Giovanni, who has reported from some of the most dangerous places on earth – from Iraq to Libya and Syria, says that only public pressure will put a stop to the Syrian conflict. “This is how we helped to end the war in Bosnia – by public awareness and pressure.”
ABC journalist Sophie McNeil agrees, saying that aid agencies and the UN have the food and equipment to help the besieged Syrians. “We did a story about the town Madaya… The UN had the food - it was in warehouses in Damascus 40 kilometres away. It wasn’t delivered because the Syrian government didn’t give them permission to go to those areas.”
“This is not an issue of funding. This is an issue of the world turning its back on the Syrian people,” says McNeil, a Walkley-Award-winning journalist who is based in Lebanon and has been reporting on the Middle East for 10 years.
“We haven’t seen the political pressure exerted on the players [in the war].”
Know your facts
- More than 250,000 people have died in the five-year Syrian war
- It is being fought between two sides of the same country – supporters of the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and the rebels – although countries such as Russia are helping fund al-Assad.
Write a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, expressing your concern. (Hon Julie Bishop, PO Box 6022, House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600)