UN inspectors fired upon by snipers in Syria

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Damascus highlights
Damascus city landmarks. 1st row: Damascus skyline – 2nd row: Damascus University, Damascus opera house – 3rd row: Four Seasons Hotel and Barada River, Syrian National Museum (Qasr Al-Hayr AL-Gharbi Facade), Omayyad Mosque – 4th row: Al-Azem Palace, Maktab Anbar.

A chemical attack last Wednesday in Damascus, the capital of Syria, led to increased pressure on president Bashar al-Assad’s government to allow United Nations (UN) inspectors in to investigate. The US believes it was al-Assad’s forces that unleashed the chemicals, while al-Assad blames the rebels fighting him in the Syrian civil war.

When the Syrian government finally bowed to pressure, the US felt it was too little, too late, and today’s dramatic events can only worsen the situation. As UN inspectors went to investigate the chemical weapons attack site, unidentified snipers opened fire on the experts! One car was actually shot multiple times, forcing it to turn back.  The UN Secretary General’s spokesman, Farhan Haq, told the BBC that he thinks the inspectors were “deliberately targeted” to intimidate them.

Syrian state media, of course, blames the rebel “terrorists.” The UN team was eventually able to enter the western district of Muadhamiya, a Damascus suburb, to continue its work. Al-Assad believes the entire situation is just American manipulation, and warns against a US military intervention. “If someone is dreaming of making Syria a puppet of the West, then this will not happen,” he told Izvestiya, a Russian newspaper.

Although the 20-member UN inspection team has been in Syria since August 18, looking into three earlier suspected chemical attacks, they were not given permission to examine Damascus until Sunday. They will now be collecting samples of blood, urine, and flesh, but are not focused on assigning blame.

As for the US and its follow-through on the “red line” threat it gave al-Assad last year against using chemical weapons, naval forces have been strengthened in the eastern Mediterranean sea. Military leaders from the UK, US, and their allies are meeting in Jordan. As for China and Russia, they seem unlikely to agree on being stricter with al-Assad’s government. China and Russia, in fact, have warned “Western” nations not to judge the inspections before the evidence is fully evaluated.

At a press conference on Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the gunfire against the UN inspectors “only weakens the regime’s credibility” and that “indiscriminate use of chemical weapons” should not be “violated without consequences.” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that Obama was considering ” a response to the clear use on a mass scale with repugnant results of chemical weapons,” and that “there is very little doubt that the Syrian regime… used those weapons.”

Featured image of Jupiter temple in Damascus courtesy of Ai@ce on Wikipedia