Syrian rebels claim Assad used chemical weapons, over 1000 dead
posted at 8:41 am on August 21, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
A Syrian human-rights group claims over 1000 deaths from an artillery attack on suburban Damascus from Bashar al-Assad’s army, and claims that poison gas was part of the attack. France has called for a UN investigation, while the Syrian government denies using any such weapons:
France’s president demanded the United Nations be granted access to the site of Wednesday’s alleged attack, while Britain’s foreign secretary said if the claims are verified it would mark “a shocking escalation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.”
The heavy shelling early Wednesday pounded the capital’s eastern suburbs of Zamalka, Arbeen and Ein Tarma, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. The intensive bombardment as well as the sound of fighter jets could be heard by residents of the Syrian capital throughout the night and early Wednesday, and gray smoke hung over towns in the eastern suburbs.
Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said the activists in the area said “poisonous gas” was fired in rockets as well as from the air in the attack. He added that he has documented at least 100 deaths, but said it was no clear whether the victims died from shelling or toxic gas.
CBS has more, with the claims rising to 1,000 or more:
The Syrian opposition said Wednesday that state security forces had launched intense artillery and rocket barrages on the eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus, claiming that hundreds of people died in what was being called a “poisonous gas” attack.
George Sabra, deputy head of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, said at a news conference that 1,300 people were killed as shells rained down on the capital’s eastern suburbs of Douma, Jobar, Zamalka, Arbeen and Ein Tarma.
The opposition Local Coordination Committees said hundreds of people were killed or injured in the shelling, and a nurse at a health center in Douma put the death toll at 213.
The Associated Press offers one reason for skepticism:
A 20-member U.N. chemical weapons team is currently in Syria to investigate three sites where chemical weapons attacks allegedly occurred over the past year. Their presence raises questions about why the regime — which called the claims of the attack Wednesday “absolutely baseless” — would employ chemical agents at this time.
There are other reasons for skepticism, too. Syrian rebels have been trying to get the US and the West to intervene on their behalf for two years, without much success thanks to their affiliation with al-Qaeda. The only way that the US will make that kind of intervention will be to prevent or punish the use of WMDs, which actually didn’t work earlier this year. The US has talked about funding the rebels and may or may not be providing training to the more-respectable secular elements within their ranks, but nothing more tangible has been produced so far. Another claim of a chemical-weapons attack will put pressure on Barack Obama and the West to enter into the fray.
A senior U.S. administration official said the United States had no official confirmation that chemical weapons were used in recent attacks in Syria.
“If true, it would be further evidence of unconscionable brutality by a desperate man and a desperate regime,” the official said, referring the Assad government.
On the other hand, videos taken of the dead and wounded point to something other than a conventional attack. CNN provided an update for viewers earlier this morning, and notes the high casualty rates and the lack of external injuries as reasons to suspect that the rebels may be right:
Jeff Dunetz notes that the Arab League has now demanded an investigation, and has more raw video (Note: these images are disturbing):
If the UN determines that Assad used chemical weapons on the suburb of his own capital, should the US intervene? Jeff says yes — but only to take out the chemical weapons stores:
Overall the US has no dog in this hunt. It is a battle between the Syrian Govt. which is a Russian satellite, and the rebels who are mostly controlled by al Qaeda. However if weapons of Mass destruction are used the US (and the world) may legitimately look for a way to disarm/destroy those weapons so they cannot be used again. America’s only fundamental interest is those chemical weapons and making sure they don’t fall into the hands of the rebel forces who work for al Qaeda, the al-Nusra Front.
Ted Cruz said the same thing earlier this summer, but that’s easier said than done. We’d need a rather large footprint to seek out and destroy those weapons, and we’d probably be taking fire from both sides while doing it. If we want to do a more robust intervention, then we’d better be prepared to put a lot of boots on the ground for the long haul. Who’s up for another Iraq?