The recent arrest of rebel fighters in Syria for the use of chemical weapons marks a serious and detrimental stride in the civil war.
The West and Syria have previously traded allegations of a chemical weapon attacks. Observers have referred to the nightmare scenario that the use of such weapons would be in the two-year-old conflict. Already an estimated 70,000 people have died and the use of chemical weapons demonstrates that the rebels will stoop to any tactic thing to oust the regime. Chemical weapons could be used by one side or the other. They could also fall into the hands of foreign jihadi fighters among the rebels.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s itch for a military intervention could find a pretext in the out- break of chemical warfare. He may even clandestinely support the revels in such a misadventure. He has already indicated has declared that the use, deployment or transfer of the weapons would be a “red line” for possible military intervention by the U.S. in the Syrian conflict.
In the recent attack some 31 people were killed in attack according to Syrian sources. The defence ministry has said that a missile containing a chemical substance was fired at the village of Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province by “terrorists” — the term it uses for rebels.
In addition to the 31 killed, more than 100 others were wounded, some of them critically. Pictures showing casualties, including children, on stretchers in what appears to be a hospital ward add up to evidence that western sources are playing down. Arab and Western countries that support the rebels are embarrassed by the crime and are not just playing the incident down but seeking to reverse the blame. Without any credible evidence to back their claims, these countries claim that the missiles with chemical weapons were “most likely” caused by regime forces’ use of “poisonous gases.” Having armed and equipped them, they argue that the rebels only have primitive rockets and say that the opposition fighters were behind the attack is laughable.”
With guilt on their shoulders, US officials say there is no evidence either side had used chemical weapons. The official who made that claim spoke on condition of anonymity. Interestingly, the White House and the State Department rejected only the Assad regime’s charge. In their one-sidedness spokespersons for the US have said: “This is an issue that has been made very clear by the president to be of great concern to us… if the Syrian regime does use such weapons, there will be consequences.”
Russia, which has steadfastly supported Assad, backed the Syrian government’s assertion. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the rebels detonated munitions containing an unidentified chemical agent, but didn’t give further details, and added that it was an “extremely dangerous” development.
The Syrian regime is believed to possess substantial stockpiles of mustard gas and a range of nerve agents, including sarin, a highly toxic substance that can suffocate its victims by paralyzing muscles around their lungs. And yet, after the spurious claims about Iraq’s claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, one would have to view any western claim as capricious.
The longer the war goes on, the greater the danger of Syria’s institutions collapsing and extremists adopting desperate tactics. The use of chemical weapons is the first sign of desperation among the rebels. Their strategies border on the absurd. In yet anpther sign of desperation, Syria’s opposition coalition elected Ghassan Hitto, a little-known American-educated technology manager to head an interim government to administer areas seized by rebels from Assad’s troops. His first act was to rule out dialogue with the government.
It is past time that the external interferences give way to rational and civilized dialogue. One upmanship from Obama and his list of war-mongering advisors will only lead to more disaster. The lessons from Iraq do not seem to have entered the hard-headed skulls of the creators of war.
Israel must also give up back-seat driving and do what it must first do- enter into sincere dialogue and find a lasting and just peace with the Palestinians. Assad can then be encouraged to find a few doors to open up dialogue spaces without ceding principle and national integrity.
Syria is not for sale to those who wish to see it fall apart. In the end it is not externally influenced political forces that should have a say. An authentic dialogue between Syrians and a democratic process that accompanies it is the one and only genuine way forward. All else is doomed.
(Badayl-Alternatives invite readers to also read the accompanying article “Syrian Opposition Fighters Arrested with Chemical Weapons”- a think-piece which analyses the issues at hand.)
Syrian Opposition Fighters Arrested With Chemical Weapons
by Bill Van Auken
In a series of raids in the capital of Istanbul and in the southern provinces of Mersin, Adana and Hatay near the Syrian border, Turkish police rounded up 12 members of Syria’s Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front along with chemical weapons materials.
The Turkish media initially reported that police recovered four and a half pounds of sarin, the deadly nerve gas which had earlier been linked to chemical weapons attacks inside Syria.
While widely reported in the Turkish press, the arrests Wednesday have been virtually blacked out by the corporate media in the US. Newspapers like the New York Times, which have openly promoted a US intervention in Syria, citing alleged chemical weapons use by the regime of Bashar al-Assad as a pretext, have posted not a word about the raids in Turkey.
The daily newspaper Zaman reported that “the al-Nusra members had been planning a bomb attack for Thursday in [the Turkish city of] Adana but that the attack was averted when the police caught the suspects. Along with the sarin gas, the police seized a number of handguns, grenades, bullets and documents during their search.”
The city of Adana, approximately 60 miles from the Syrian border, has a sizable Alawite Arab population that is sympathetic to the Syrian government and hostile to the Sunni Islamist forces that have waged the US-backed war for regime change on the ground in Syria.
The Al Nusra Front, which has formally declared its allegiance to Al Qaeda, was declared a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department last December. The United Nations Security Council added the group to the body’s Al Qaeda sanctions blacklist Friday.
The Syrian government had requested that the group be subjected to sanctions as a terrorist organization last month, but the action was initially blocked by Britain and France. Finally, an agreement was reached to declare Al Nusra an alias for Al Qaeda in Iraq.
The Al Nusra Front has been universally acknowledged as the most effective fighting force of the so-called rebels seeking the Assad government’s overthrow. Both Britain and France recently succeeded in overturning a European Union ban on arms exports to Syria, clearing the way for them to ship weapons to the “rebels.”
None of the arrested suspects have been identified. Turkish media reported that five of them were released late Thursday, and seven are still being held for questioning. The government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has provided extensive material support for the Syrian opposition, has given no public explanation of the police actions.
Adana provincial governor Huseyin Avni Cos denied on Thursday that sarin had been recovered in the raids but did allow that unknown chemicals had been found and were being analyzed.
The arrests come little more than two weeks after twin terrorist car bombings claimed the lives of 52 people in the Turkish city of Reyhanli in southern Hatay province near the border with Syria. The Erdogan government seized upon the incident to blame the Syrian government and call for international intervention to topple Assad. It simultaneously imposed an unprecedented gag order on the Turkish press to prevent reporting on the extensive evidence that the attacks were the work of Syrian opposition groups, which use Reyhanli as a supply base and who have free movement across the Turkish-Syrian border.
Subsequently, authorities arrested an army private on charges of “crimes against the state” for allegedly leaking top secret cables that indicated the government’s prior knowledge that the bombings were being planned by the Al Qaeda-linked forces in Syria. RedHack, the Turkish hacker group which made the cables public last week, denied that it had any contact with the arrested private, who was identified as Utku Kali.
The Adana daily Taraf reported Thursday that police are mounting road blocks and conducting searches in the area for a vehicle loaded with explosives that is believed to have been sent to the area by the US-backed anti-Assad forces.
The discovery of sarin or some other lethal chemical weapons materials in the hands of Al Nusra Front operatives in Turkey prompted calls by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for an immediate investigation. He condemned the continuing failure to send a United Nations inspection team to Syria to investigate a chemical weapons incident last March outside of the city of Aleppo.
“We are highly disappointed that because of the political games, the UN Secretariat failed to respond to that request swiftly,” Lavrov told reporters.
These “political games” refer to demands by Washington and its allies that any UN team be given carte blanche to inspect any and all Syrian facilities and interrogate anyone it chooses, along the lines of the inspection regime created in Iraq in the run-up to the US invasion of 2003.
The Assad government has charged that the March attack, which killed 26 people, 16 of them government soldiers, was carried out by the Western-backed forces.
The Obama administration has repeatedly declared the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government to be a “red line” or “game changer” that would trigger unspecified US intervention. At the same time, Washington and its European NATO allies have turned a blind eye to evidence of chemical weapons use by the Islamist militias.
There have been repeated claims by the Syrian opposition groups, as well as by the British and French governments, of chemical weapons use by the regime. Last month, however, Carla del Ponte, a leading member of the UN commission of inquiry on Syria, stated that the bulk of the evidence indicated chemical weapons use by the rebels.
The latest development in Turkey suggests that the Western-backed Islamist militias were preparing to launch another chemical weapons attack, apparently against a Turkish civilian population, with the aim of producing mass casualties that would be blamed on the Syrian regime and create the conditions for a US-led intervention.
The silence of the US media on the incident only demonstrates that it is prepared to play the same role that it did in Iraq, working to sell a war based upon lies to the American public. The experience of the past decade of unending war, however, has made this task more difficult.
A Gallup poll released on Friday found that more than two out of three Americans (68 percent) oppose any US military intervention in Syria if “diplomatic efforts fail to end the civil war in Syria.”