Britain and the United States agree that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against rebels in the two-year-long civil war, a judgment that will lead to military support for anti-government forces, but Russia isn’t so sure.
British Prime Minister David Cameron offered high-flown rhetoric about the “very difficult question” that England and the United States “have got to address: What are we going to do about the fact that in our world today there is a dictatorial and brutal leader who is using chemical weapons under our noses against his own people.”
The use of chemical weapons against opponents in combat violates a 1993 international agreement by 165 signatory countries under the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Seven U.N. states are not party to the agreement: Angola, Myanmar, Egypt, Israel, North Korea, South Sudan and Syria.
Months ago, President Barack Obama said Assad’s use of chemical weapons against Syrians would cross a “red line” that would make military intervention necessary. Assad has consistently denied the allegation.
“Following a deliberative review our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.
As journalist Robert Fisk wrote in The Independent weeks ago, this is an old story. Western governments have made this dubious claim before to justify military involvement in eastern countries, always with some ulterior economic or diplomatic objective hanging in the background, and always as if there are not other horrors being committed by heads of state against their people in other parts of the world that are equally deserving of attention.
Journalist Patrick Cockburn has made it clear that Britain and the United States indeed have an interest in a further destabilized Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a supporter of Assad, disputes the claim. One statesman’s word against another alone is never proof of deception or wrongdoing, but Putin’s contestation means the U.S. and the U.K. may not be able to execute their military support easily.
The U.S. assessment is based on CIA tests on blood, urine and hair samples alleged to have been taken from dead or wounded rebel fighters. Assad has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.
U.S. officials said that the specific type of weaponry to be provided was still being determined, according to The Associated Press, but that it might include small arms, ammunition, assault rifles and a variety of anti-tank munitions such as shoulder-fired remote-propelled grenades and other missiles.
The Russian foreign ministry, which insists on holding an international peace conference, warned that U.S. arms deliveries to rebels would “drive up the level of violent confrontation and violence against innocent civilians.” The United Nations estimates at least 93,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
Russia has consistently obstructed US-led attempts to bring sanctions against Assad’s regime for the bloody conflict that has resulted in almost 100,000 deaths in Syria, and millions of people displaced. Officials say they do not support Assad and are merely against foreign intervention on principle, but Moscow has continued to supply arms and other aid to Assad as his last major ally alongside Iran.
The issue of arming the rebels has taken on extra urgency in recent days as pro-Assad forces are believed to be moving towards Aleppo, Syria’s second city, for a possible showdown with rebel forces that could change the course of the two-year conflict. Heavy fighting was reported in Aleppo on Friday morning.
The CIA was expected to be tasked with teaching the rebels how to use the weapons, AP reported. The New York Times gave a similar outline of the arms involved and said anti-aircraft munitions, hotly sought after by the rebels, were not under consideration. Syrian rebel groups have repeatedly called for both anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.
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