Eastern Ghouta, Syria – Rescue workers and doctors say that at least 29 people, including 15 children, were taken to a medical center with breathing problems after a suspected organophosphorus or chlorine gas attack on the towns of Hamoryah and Saqba last Wednesday. The airstrikes, shelling and alleged gas attacks on the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta caused the postponement of aid deliveries to 300,000 people under siege. These strikes are being carried out in an assault by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The next day, the French foreign minister told journalists that France is considering an intervention. “If the use of chemical weapons were found, verified, attributed and the use of the chemical weapon left people dead,” France would take “intervention measures to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons,” said Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, as quoted by Chinese Xinhua News on Thursday.
This position was reaffirmed by French President Emmanuel Macron at a news conference in India on Monday. Asked about the Syrian conflict Macron said France would be ready to strike if it found “irrefutable evidence” chemical weapons had been used to kill and that France is prepared to launch targeted strikes against any site in Syria used to deploy chemical attacks that result in the deaths of civilians.
This would not be the first time that France has taken the lead in opposition to the Assad government. France showed support for Syrian opposition protests before the conflict escalated in 2011, and responded to the conflict by sending non-lethal aid to the opposition. The lack of action from France in 2013 came in spite of the calls from the then-President François Hollande, who began surreptitiously funneling arms to the Syrian opposition.
On Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis warned the Syrian government not to use chemical weapons and that the Trump administration has made it clear that it would be “very unwise” to use gas in attacks. “Either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad,” Mattis said.
In a scathing address to the UN Security Council Monday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley further warned that the US “remains prepared to act if we must,” if the UN fails to act on Syria. Haley stated, “If we can’t count on the members of the Council to honor their agreements we can’t accomplish anything. And if we can’t act when children are dying, we have no business being here.” Haley added, “If we can’t save families that haven’t seen sunlight for weeks because they’ve been hiding … then the Security Council is as impotent as its critics claim it is.”
RT @USUN: “The Russian & Syrian regimes label anyone as terrorists who resist their absolute control. In the eyes of Russia, Iran & Assad, the neighborhoods of eastern Ghouta are full of ‘terrorists.’ The hospitals are full of ‘terrorists.’ The schools are full of ‘terrorists.’” pic.twitter.com/2a1Xq7V1p0
— Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley) March 12, 2018
Russia quickly weighed in. According to multiple news reports by Russian media such as state news agency RIA and Tass, Russia’s military threatened action against the U.S. if it strikes Syria’s capital city of Damascus.
#SYRIA #Gerasimov: there are Russian military advisers, representatives of Russian Reconciliation Centre, and military policemen in Damascus. If their lives are threatened, the #RusMoD will retaliate against missile and launch systems pic.twitter.com/TMUfoTn4DG
— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) March 13, 2018
Syrian and Russian state media, such as Tass, have been reporting since last week’s attack that militants have been preparing to falsify a government chemical attack against civilians to gain support from the West. According to Tass, militants in Eastern Ghouta planned on staging a chemical attack on March 11th with the purpose of accusing Syrian governmental forces, according to Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mehdad.
“We have received information that militants in Eastern Ghouta plan staging a chemical attack between Misraba and Bitsava,” he said. “For that, the Tahrir al-Sham militants plan killing several women, and we expect this “performance” may take place on March 11.”
According to RIA, Chief of Russia’s General Staff Valery Gerasimov concurred with the allegeation stating, “In several districts of Eastern Ghouta, a crowd was assembled with women, children and old people, brought from other regions, who were to represent the victims of the chemical incident.”
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic arm have been in overdrive on social media seeking to dispel allegations that chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime, even posting images of Colin Powell’s infamous “white powder” speech before the U.N. Security Council before the Iraq War.
The ongoing assault on Ghouta is one of the heaviest in the civil war, which entered its eighth year this week. As reported, thousands of families have been sleeping in the open in the streets due to a lack of room in shelters from bombardment. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Monday that the death toll in the war had passed half a million people, 85 percent of which were killed by government forces and their allies.
The 2013 attack killed over 1,000 people in Ghouta, and caused the U.S. and British Chief Executives to seek legislative authorization for retaliating attacks in Syria. The only other confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria came in April 2017, when an attack on the town of Khan Sheikhun prompted the Trump administration to launch a missile attack.
La France parle à la Russie, comme à l'Iran. Les relations sont différentes avec ces deux pays.
L'intérêt de l'Inde est aussi de créer en Syrie une solution politique et durable.
Il ne faut rien céder face à une situation humanitaire inadmissible.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) March 13, 2018
[Title Image: (l to r) US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, Chief of Russia’s General Staff Valery Gerasimov, French President Emmanuel Macron]
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