Syria to allow UN investigation of chemical attack

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Syria bombed out vehicles
Bombed out vehicles in Aleppo, the largest city in Syria.

Syria’s government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, says that United Nations (UN) inspectors can come investigate the suspected use of chemical warfare against citizens in the capital of Damascus. This willingness follows President Barack Obama’s announcement on Friday that the US was considering more aggressive options against al-Assad’s forces in the Syrian civil war. Last year, Obama had warned al-Assad that the US viewed chemical warfare as a “red line” not to be crossed without severe consequences.

Even though the Syrian government has expressed a willingness to be investigated, an official from the Obama administration said, “If the Syrian government had nothing to hide and wanted to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons in this incident, it would have ceased its attacks on the area and granted immediate access to the UN – five days ago.” The official went on to express that the decision by al-Assad’s government to allow the UN inside is “too late to be credible, including because the evidence available has been significantly corrupted as a result of the regime’s persistent shelling and other intentional actions over the last five days.” Basically, the White House official believes that al-Assad’s forces have destroyed a lot of the evidence of the attack with military strikes.

While the senior Obama administration official says that the US is “continuing to assess the facts so the President can make an informed decision about how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons,” the Pentagon – headquarters of the US military – has already sent four warships armed with cruise missiles to the region. The official outlined the evidence by explaining, “Based on the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, witness accounts, and other facts gathered by open sources, the US intelligence community, and international partners, there is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident.”

al-Assad in Moscow
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asmaa, during a visit to Moscow, Russia.

Officials from Russia and Iran weighed in on the conflict, expressing concern over US aggression against Syria. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned against “the possible use of force against Syria” and said that the US should “follow international law and confirmed facts, and not pursue assumptions… under one sided geo-political projects.” That’s a fancy way of saying Russia believes the US is just acting in its own interests by getting involved. Iran, meanwhile, warns against the US crossing Syria’s own “red line” and Massoud Jazayeri of Iran’s armed forces said there would be “severe consequences.”

The organization Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian non-governmental group of medical professionals who help victims of violent conflicts, says it believes chemical weapons were used. Three of the hospitals supported by the group in Damascus received 3,600 patients who shows neurotoxic symptoms like blurred vision, too much saliva, small pupils, and breathing problems. Director of operations Dr. Bart Janssens says, “The reported symptoms of the patients… strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent.” Since the Syrian government can’t really deny so much evidence of chemical weapon usage, they deny responsibility for the attack, claiming that rebel “terrorists” used them.

Image of al-Assad courtesy of Rakkar on Wikimedia.