GHOUTA CHEMICAL STRIKE: Dozens of innocent Syrians feared dead

Douma – VIJAY SHAH via TOM ACRES and Sky News

In an escalation of the Syrian crisis where government troops allied with the country’s president, Bashar Al-Assad, are fighting rebels in the Ghouta area east of Damascus, a report has come in stating that around 70 people have been killed in a chemical bomb attack blamed on the Syrian army.

In what UK media firm Sky News has dubbed ‘one of (the) worst chemical strikes in Syrian history’, dozens of people, many believed to be women and children, were said to have died in Ghouta, a rebel-controlled district on the outskirts of capital Damascus, where a months-long siege between rebel and government forces has caused immense hardship for thousands of residents. Around five hundred people have been reported injured, according to Sky.

 

The United States has called on Russia, which is supporting President Al-Assad, to cease its support after the Ghouta chemical atrocity. The U.S. State Department said it was keeping tabs on the ‘grossly disturbing’ situation, which occurred in a city named Douma, around 10 km (6 miles) north-east of Damascus city centre. Babies and small children were among those caught up in the attack, according to video footage provided by Sky News. Children were seen in great distress, some clutching gas masks. A volunteer rescue service, called White Helmets in English, an opponent of the government, said it found dead children with frothing saliva around their mouths

The Syrian government has denied carrying out a chemical attack in Douma, but has been accused of using chemical weapons on civilian populations in previous skirmishes with the numerous rebel groups active in the Middle Eastern country. In April 2017, more than 80 people were killed in another suspected chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, which was also said to have been carried out by the Syrian government army. According to US intelligence, Al-Assad’s army is said to have stockpiles of the highly lethal gas agent, sarin, and possibly mustard gas.

“The United States continues to use all efforts available to hold those who use chemical weapons, in Syria and otherwise, accountable,” the State Department said in a statement, which referenced the alleged sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun last year.

“The Assad regime and its backers must be held accountable and any further attacks prevented immediately.

“Russia, with its unwavering support for the regime, ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks, targeting of countless civilians, and the suffocation of Syria’s most vulnerable communities with chemical weapons.”

Britain called for an “urgent investigation” into the alleged use of illegal weapons and an immediate end to the bloodshed.

“These are very concerning reports of a chemical weapons attack with significant number of casualties, which if correct, are further proof of Assad’s brutality against innocent civilians and his backers’ callous disregard for international norms,” the country’s Foreign Office said in a statement.

“An urgent investigation is needed and the international community must respond. We call on the Assad regime and its backers, Russia and Iran, to stop the violence against innocent civilians.”

In addition to the denial of responsibility by the official Syrian government, state-owned media outlets there have claimed that reports of the chemical attacks were propaganda, fabricated by rebels who they claim are close to defeat. Most of the Ghouta area is now back under government control, with only Douma city itself still under the control of the rebel group called  Jaish al Islam.

SOURCES:

Shere Singh via Facebook.

“Dozens dead in ‘one of worst chemical strikes in Syrian history’ ” – Tom Acres, Sky News/Sky UK (8 April 2018) https://news.sky.com/story/at-least-70-dead-in-chemical-attack-by-syrian-regime-in-eastern-ghouta-says-rescue-group-11322143

IMAGE CREDIT:

“File:Syria – Damascus Areas of Influence and Areas Reportedly Affected by 21 August Chemical Attack.jpg” – whitehouse.gov and Elissa Rubria Honoria, Wikimedia Commons (3 September 2013) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Syria_-_Damascus_Areas_of_Influence_and_Areas_Reportedly_Affected_by_21_August_Chemical_Attack.jpg

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SYRIAN CIVIL WAR: Assad’s forces launch attack on rebel city

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have today launched an air-strike attack against the rebel-held city of Qusayr, in Homs province, according to reports by opponents fighting against Mr. Assad’s government.

After months of fighting outside Qusayr between state forces and rebels, the Syrian army counter-struck with the aerial attack in an attempt to push back gains made by the rebels in recent months, according to a statement by opposition spokesperson Abu Ali.

Billboard with portrait of Assad and the text ...
Billboard with portrait of Assad and the text God protects Syria on the old city wall of Damascus 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Observers of Syria‘s state television have additionally confirmed to international news network CNN that the Syrian army have begun pounding the city with heavy artillery. Government tanks have completely surrounded the city and are moving in from various locations around Qusayr’s outskirts, according to the BBC. Qusayr has been under siege for several months, as various parts of Syria, including districts of the capital Damascus, pass from government to rebel control, and then revert again within weeks.

There have been claims that fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah  a Shi’a outfit considered terrorists by the United States and the European Union, are co-operating with the Syrian army to retake the town, which is situated close to the Lebanese border.

Meanwhile, in a sign that the war is becoming more sectarian, hundreds of Lebanese Sunnis have crossed the border to support the beleaguered rebels, who are predominately fellow Sunnis. Bashar al-Assad’s Ba’ath party is mostly drawn from the Alawi (Alawite) minority. 

Opposition activists have so far claimed the offensive has resulted in the loss of 16 lives as the air strikes come under way. Reports are coming in of ‘heavy shelling’. Officials from the U.S. Department of State also claim that government forces air-dropped propaganda leaflets over Qusayr, warning of dire consequences if the rebels retained control of the town and persisted with the siege.

In Lebanon’s capital Beirut, the BBC’s Jim Muir stated that should Qusayr remain in rebel hands, it will enable them easy passage to move arms and supplies along the porous border of Lebanon, which has traditionally come under Syria’s sphere of influence. Occupying the border town would give the Syrian army an advantage as they would be successful in cutting off opposition supply lines.

Since the civil war in Syria began in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’ last year, it is estimated that around 60-80,000 people have perished in the fighting, with an additional 1.1 million refugees fleeing to squalid refugee camps in Syria’s neighbours Lebanon and Turkey. They are living in destitute conditions and survive with the help of NGO’s and sympathetic locals. However tensions are rising between displaced Syrians and Turks in the NATO power’s southern regions, most notably after a recent bomb blast in the town of Reyhanli, in which Syrians were attacked and their vehicles damaged by revenge mobs in the aftermath.

President Bashar al-Assad has remained openly defiant of both Syrian rebels and the West in their aims to put an end to his nearly thirteen years of autocratic rule of one of the Middle East’s largest nations. Assad has come under heavy criticism by Western powers for a litany of human rights abuses, including wholesale bombing of civilian areas, summary execution of rebels and alleged chemical attacks on villages in the north of Syria which killed one person. The West has so far stuck to a ‘hands-off approach’ as they seek to avoid another Iraq-style conflict and exacerbate sectarian tensions in the region.

Rebel forces have also been accused of human rights abuses and war crimes. This week a rebel leader was videoed cutting out the heart and liver from the corpse of a government soldier and taking a bite out of the heart as he swore revenge on troops loyal to President Assad. The video was received with international disgust and condemnation and the rebels have promised to take action against the commander featured in the mobile video.

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SOURCES:

CNN International on Twitter LINK

“Opposition: Syrian army targets rebel-held city” – Yousuf Basil, CNN – Edition International LINK

“Syria army ‘storms’ rebel town Qusair” – BBC News Middle East LINK

“Bashar al-Assad” – Wikipedia LINK