These are the facts. A chemical weapon was used the morning of March 19 near the town of Khan al-Asal in the Syrian province of Aleppo. Reuters cited an eyewitness who had entered the impact zone as saying that 26 people were killed and 86 wounded. The eyewitness said there was a smell of chlorine in the air and people were having trouble breathing. Most of the victims were civilians.
Who used a chemical weapon in Syria?
ITAR-TASS quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying the “Syrian armed opposition” had used chemical weapons. “According to reports from Damascus, the use of chemical weapons was registered in the Aleppo province early in the morning of March 19,” the Foreign Ministry said. “The explosion of a warhead containing a chemical warfare agent killed 16 and injured about 100 others.”
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said terrorists fired a rocket with a chemical warhead on Khan al-Asal in an attempt to escalate the Syrian conflict and as a consequence of Arab League decisions made at the foreign ministers level in Cairo. He placed the moral responsibility for the incident on the governments of Turkey and Qatar.
Although the Syrian rebels are trying shift blame for the chemical attack to government forces, they are having little success.
Meanwhile, the key point is this. The use of chemical weapons at Khan al-Asal may serve as a “convenient” pretext for NATO countries to stage a military invasion of Syria. And the Obama administration is trying to play up its “impressive success”: Chemical weapons, which were long sought by US intelligence in Iraq during George W. Bush’s presidency, have finally been found in Syria.
Washington may now have three options.
1. Not acknowledge that the rebels carried out the chemical attack, blame the Assad government for the crime and begin preparing to invade Syria. While the military preparations are being carried out, it may form a special commission to investigate the incident at Khan al-Asal that would conclude that the “tyrannical Assad regime” is to blame for everything.
2. Acknowledge that the rebels carried out the chemical attack and force them to enter peace negotiations.
3. Acknowledge that the rebels carried out the chemical attack and begin preparing for an invasion in order to “rescue the poor, suffering Syrian people.”
The war in Syria has been going on for two years. Approximately 70,000 people have died according to the latest UN data. In contrast to the Hussein and Gadhafi regimes, Assad’s government has shown courage and impressive will in resisting outside pressure. It has not proved easy to break.
The White House has become aware that the war in Syria is dragging on and its outcome is uncertain. Unlike the Syrian government, the armed opposition lacks support within the country. That evidently is precisely the problem, because it is difficult to imagine that it has difficulty getting supplies.
It clearly is no accident that government circles in the United States and the Western media have recently begun actively pushing the issue of a chemical threat from the Syrian government.
On December 3, for example, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clearly stated the conditions under which the United States would intervene directly in Syria: “This [the use of chemical weapons] is a red line for the United States… We once again issue a very strong warning to the Assad regime that their behavior is reprehensible,” she said after meeting with Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
It is impossible to precisely predict what Washington will do in this situation. As various foreign experts have noted, however, a military solution to the Syrian crisis may doom both Syria and the entire region to greater suffering. The entire international community should direct its efforts towards facilitating a peaceful discussion to find a way out of the situation.
Konstantin Alexandrovich Penzev is an author and historian and a columnist for New Eastern Outlook.