The Americans are going to have to present their evidence. It better be very good evidence that the Assad regime perpetrated the attacks. If Obama believes Assad did it, he must have that very good evidence. After all, the United States has satellites that can listen and watch real time events, and the NSA is always listening and monitoring communications, including electronic digital communications as Mr. Snowden revealed. On the other hand Russian president Putin is just as adamant that the Syrian military did not do it.
The 2013 Ghouta attacks were a series of alleged chemical attacks that occurred on Wednesday, 21 August 2013, in the Ghouta region of the Rif Dimashq Governorate of Syria.
Opposition and medical sources gave a death toll of 355 to 1,729, and said that none of them had physical wounds. According to the activist network Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which estimated 502 killed, 46 of the dead were rebel fighters. The attacks were launched on opposition-controlled areas, with the Syrian government and the Syrian rebels blaming each other for the attack. If the death toll is confirmed, the attack would be the deadliest chemical attack since the March/April 1988 Halabja poison gas attack and Second Battle of al-Faw of the Iran–Iraq War.
The alleged attack came almost exactly one year after U.S. President Barack Obama’s”red line” speech, in which he warned that chemical weapons use in Syria, which is one of five non-signatories to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, would trigger American intervention. Since his speech, and prior to the chemical attacks in Ghouta, chemical weapons were suspected to have been used in at least four attacks in the country.
On 21 August 2013, the Syrian government launched an offensive to capture opposition-held Damascus suburbs.
The alleged chemical attacks reportedly occurred around 03:00 in the morning on 21 August 2013, in the rebel-held and mostly Sunni Ghouta agricultural area, just east of Damascus. The area had been under an Army siege backed by Hezbollahfor months. The towns attacked were: Hammuriyah, Irbin, Saqba, Kafr Batna, Mudamiyah, Harasta, Zamalka and Ain Terma. An attack was also reported in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Jobar.
Doctors Without Borders said three hospitals it supports in the eastern Damascus region reported receiving roughly 3,600 patients with “neurotoxic symptoms” over less than three hours on after the morning, when the attack in the eastern Ghouta area took place. Of those, 355 died. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria claimed that of the 1,338 victims, 1,000 were in Zamalka, among which 600 bodies were transferred to medical points in other towns and 400 remained at a Zamalka medical centre. At least six medics died while treating the victims. The deadliness of the attack is believed to have been increased due to Syrians fleeing the regime bombardment by hiding in basements, where the heavier-than-air chemical agents sank to these lower-lying, poorly ventilated areas. Some of the victims died while sleeping.
The day after the alleged chemical attacks, 22 August, the Syrian army bombarded the Ghouta area.
Abu Omar of the Free Syrian Army stated to The Guardian that the rockets involved in the attack were unusual because “you could hear the sound of the rocket in the air but you could not hear any sound of explosion” and no obvious damage to buildings occurred. Human Rights Watch’s witnesses reported “symptoms and delivery methods consistent with the use of chemical nerve agents.”
Activists and local residents contacted by The Guardian said that “the remains of 20 rockets [thought to have been carrying neurotoxic gas were] found in the affected areas. Many [remained] mostly intact, suggesting that they did not detonate on impact and potentially dispersed gas before hitting the ground.”
On 23 August, US officials stated that American intelligence detected activity at Syrian chemical weapons sites before the attack on 21 August. Foreign Policy magazine’s The Cable, citing unnamed sources, reported that: “US intelligence services” intercepted communications, hours after a attack, between an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defence and the leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike. According to the report, American officials believe that the attacks were the work of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime based on the content of the calls, although they are unsure who ordered the attacks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, an ally of the Syrian government, told United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron that there was no evidence that the chemical weapons were used by the Syrian regime. An Iranian Foreign Ministry official claimed that Russia submitted evidence to the U.N. Security Council, including satellite images, purporting to show that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian rebels and not by the Administration.
Why Assad would not be motivated
Some have questioned the motive and timing behind the alleged Syrian government involvement, since the hotel in which the team of United Nations chemical weapons inspectors were staying was just a few miles from the attack. A CNN reporter pointed to the fact that government forces did not appear to be in imminent danger of being overrun by rebels in the areas in question, in which a stalemate had set. He questioned why the Army would risk such an action that could cause international intervention. The reporter also questioned if the Army would use sarin gas just a few kilometers from the center of Damascus on what was a windy day.
A reporter for The Daily Telegraph also pointed to the questionable timing given government forces had recently beaten back rebels in some areas around Damascus and recaptured territory. “Using chemical weapons might make sense when he is losing, but why launch gas attacks when he is winning anyway?” The reporter also questioned why would the attacks happen just three days after the inspectors arrived in Syria.
Why Assad would be motivated
Columnist Jeffrey Goldberg argued that the Assad would use chemical weapons because nobody “will do a damn thing to stop him.” Syrian human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh also argued that the Assad government would launch a chemical attack because “it knows that the international community would not do anything about it” as for “previous crimes.” Israeli reporter Ron Ben-Yishai stated that the motive to use chemical weapons could be the “army’s inability to seize the rebel’s stronghold in Damascus’ eastern neighbourhoods,” or fear of rebel encroachment into Damascus with tacit civilian support, an argument backed by declassified intelligence reports from the United States, which is considering military strikes on Syria.
Why the rebels would be motivated
According to military experts, the Syrian rebels can not win the ongoing civil war without foreign military intervention. Using terror against civilians has brought international media attention and sympathy in other regional conflicts and wars, resulting in military intervention like the 2011 military intervention in Libya.
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