Chemical Weapons might be the poor man’s nuclear missiles, but mixing these chemicals and mounting them on a rocket then launching it successfully still requires a certain level of expertise that rebel groups in the country do not seem to have. Moreover, before the Aleppo attack was reported, activists in Damascus made similar claims and produced similar videos regarding an attack on the town of Al-Otaybeh in Eastern Ghoutah. Considering the timing of the Aleppo attack, if confirmed, less than 24 hours after the opposition selected a PM, and considering the drive by France and the UK to arm rebels and the current military setbacks the regime is facing in showdowns all over the country, the regime seems to be desperate enough to seek comfort in chemistry.
Many people in Syria and across the world continue to wonder why the Syrian uprising took such a violent turn, despite the bravery and selflessness of so many of the early protest leaders. Indeed, the development seems to have come as a result of a sophisticated strategy implemented by the Assad regime from the outset. Understanding this strategy, rather than lamenting the situation, as so many nonviolence advocates and theoreticians continue to do, might help prevent its replication elsewhere. (Keep reading, a longer version can be accessed here)
My colleague Joshua Landis published an interesting debate on the nature of the Free Syrian Army on his blog Syria Comment. Both Koert and Aron provides interesting peaks into the world of rebels affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, and both make excellent points. However, I have to say that, in general, I tend to agree more with Aron’s analysis. Albeit Koert’s analysis seems to capture the dynamics in parts of Aleppo more accurately. We also have to bear in mind that groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra and its affiliates do not consider themselves members of the FSA. So do many of the groups affiliated with the Syrian Islamic Front. In other words, even at its best, the FSA cannot be seen as being able to include all major fighting groups on the scene. At this stage, it’s one of several loosely organized armies active on the scene. (Lund’s paper can be downloaded here)
State TV claims that “terrorists” launched a chemical attack on Khan Al-Assal http://youtu.be/_b0lGQuNucY While Israel confirms the attack, Dr. Jean-Pascal Zanders, European Union Institute for Security Studies questions whether the images we see reflect a chemical attack:
· There are no images of the site of the attack; just of some affected people. These people do not show outward symptoms of a CW attack. Definitely not mustard; definitely not a nerve agent.
· There are far too many people, including non-medical staff, around the affected persons. Apart from a surgical mask, nobody wears any protective garment or gas masks. If there would have been a CW attack with one of the agents known (or believed) to be in Syria’s arsenal, then most of the people present would have been fatally or seriously contaminated.
· I am deeply sceptical of allegations that the insurgents would have resorted to CW. There would have far greater propaganda benefits if they were to demonstrate to the world that they had overrun one of the storage or production facilities. In addition, insurgent spokespersons were very quick to deny the government allegation.
· Regarding a case of a transfer to (and, hence, use by) surrogates of the Syrian government, I have already expressed my views on such a scenario.
· Present-day battlefields are extremely toxic. Many materials may be propelled into the air and inhaled by bystanders. If some (toxic) chemical container were hit by a shell, then bystanders could be badly affected, as we have seen in a variety of recent internal conflicts (former Yugoslavia; Sri Lanka; Iraq; etc.). Bhopal reminds us of the large-scale effects of an industrial accident. Any investigation of the allegation must first exclude plausible alternative explanations.
Meanwhile, rebels provide these videos as evidence of chemical weapons use in the town of Otaybeh in Eastern Ghoutah region, Damascus suburbs. The attacks preceded those in Aleppo and took place in rebel strongholds http://youtu.be/MKZ4QOKqtZI , http://youtu.be/Wip5qSM9mio , http://youtu.be/UwbFPMMxEjY , http://youtu.be/sgL8BeIzsv4 , http://youtu.be/-ME3RLI-yOc , http://youtu.be/n618SrZSVWE Site of the pounding http://youtu.be/MfIz22wbgiE Doctor claims that all patients had respiratory problems postulating that some phosphate based compound was used http://youtu.be/eEm20CyX2lg Three were reportedly killed.
Activists in Baba Amr Neighborhood in Homs City make similar claims http://youtu.be/IuamfvTe088
Rebels in Deir Ezzor blow up a regime convoy heading towards the town of Kubajib http://youtu.be/EvjRqqbqrXY Then attack the survivors http://youtu.be/sLJiQ71iYr0 In the town of Kubajib itself, activists claim that a regime’s warplane bombed the headquarters of the local military security branch seemingly by mistake http://youtu.be/9ZHZkH7albA
Battles are really heating up in the southern parts of Syria, especially in the Daraa Province. This reflects the fact that rebels have received more advanced weapons, and the plan seems to liberate the province and help lay siege to Damascus City. It will still take a few more weeks of pressure before this can be achieved, barring setbacks.
In Daraa City, clashes between loyalists and rebels intensify http://youtu.be/U-GY3poOTf4 , http://youtu.be/ip6rJuuHUfw
In Damascus City, regime uses missile launchers stations at the Mazzeh Military Airport to target rebel strongholds to the west http://youtu.be/owqAkc_IiFQ Neighborhoods to the south are also targeted http://youtu.be/03RIS59XmhQ