Don’t let Syria’s chemical-weapons attack go unpunished

If the international community allows this attack to pass without punishment then we will see more attacks in Syria with chemical weapons.

By MOHAMMED RUZGAR
April 8, 2018 20:10
2 minute read.
A volunteer holds an oxygen mask over a child's face at a hospital in Douma, Syria

An image grab from a video released by the Syrian civil defence in Douma shows an unidentified volunteer holding an oxygen mask over a child's face at a hospital following a reported chemical attack on the rebel-held town on April 8, 2018. (photo credit: HO / AFP / SYRIA CIVIL DEFENCE)

Saturday evening at about 8 p.m. the Syrian regime and it allies used chemical weapons against Douma, the last urban area in eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, that remains under opposition control.

The initial number of victims includes 40 civilians who died inside basement bomb-shelters according to the White Helmets. The number is likely to exceed 100 casualties, according to activists inside Douma.

In the past month the Russian-backed Syrian regime managed to seize the majority of eastern Ghouta following evacuation deals with the armed rebel groups there. According to these deals thousands of armed opposition members and tens of thousands of civilians left Ghouta. The Jaish al-Islam rebel group that is present in Douma rejected an evacuation deal and sought separate negotiations with Russia. It is interesting that Russia alone led the negotiations as the regime watched. The regime followed Russian orders in its offensive and this illustrates that it is Russia that controls the regime’s actions. The use of chemical weapons could only have taken place with Russia’s knowledge.

According to sources familiar with the negotiations with Jaish al-Islam in Douma, Russia suggested that the rebel group should leave Douma with civilians who want to leave, in a deal similar to that made in another parts of Ghouta. The other suggestion from Russia was for Jaish al-Islam to stay in Douma as a local force under the regime control after regime forces enter the city, in some kind of reconciliation agreement.

The rebels rejected both suggestions and proposed a cease-fire case around Douma. This was rejected by Russia.

After more than a week of daily meetings between the representatives of the two sides the negotiations collapsed. Subsequently Russia and the regime started shelling again on April 6, and then used chemical weapons.

The footage from the chemical massacre in Douma is tragic and miserable, and the large number of victims raises questions as to the identity of the chemical agent used.

Despite US red lines regarding the use of chemical weapons, the regime never stopped using chemical weapons in Ghouta and other parts of Syria, according to eyewitnesses and reports from humanitarians and medical organizations. This is supported by clear footage.

According to the Syrian Human Rights Network the regime committed at least 211 chemical weapons attacks since 2011. That the regime has the macabre courage to use such weapons comes from its confidence that there will be no punishment. Chemical weapons make its work much easier because of the psychological collapse they cause, together with the large numbers of victims.

If the international community allows this attack to pass without punishment then we will see more attacks in Syria with chemical weapons.

The writer is a Syrian journalist.



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