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article imageOp-Ed: The Russian position on the alleged Syrian chemical attacks

By Ken Hanly     Aug 22, 2013 in World
Damascus - There have been multiple media reports and a great deal of video footage that claims that the Assad government used chemical weapons in an attack on Damascus suburbs controlled by rebel forces.
While there is wide variation in reports of the number killed it would seem to be in the hundreds at least. Fahad Almasri, spokesman for the rebel Free Syria Army , said its branch in Damascus had documented 1,729 deaths so far. This seems to be the highest estimate. There is a great deal of video footage showing many bodies. Nevertheless, most media outlets stress that what is reported has not been independently verified. If the attack is shown to be as serious as it seems to be and shown also to be by the Assad regime there would be immense pressure for the international community to intervene. Washington, however, is being very cautious, knowing that there may be little appetite among US citizens for greater involvement in a civil war whose outcome is quite uncertain. Even France, fresh off intervention in Mali, did not suggest "boots on the ground."
In Western media reports there is little emphasis, or in many cases even a mention of, the rebels carrying out the attack as a means of forcing the international community to intervene and further discredit the Assad government. Yet this is the position of the Russian government.
For Assad to carry out the attack seems on the face of it unlikely. Assad is already doing reasonably well on the ground. To carry out such an attack is bound to create more pressure for international intervention and it occurs just as a UN investigating team is in Syria to investigate three other incidents. There will be pressure on the Assad regime to allow UN investigators into the area of the attack.
The UN investigators are not under their present mandate charged with determining who carried out an attack just whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them. Even so, evidence might seem to implicate the government, for example, if the rockets used are those used by Syrian forces. Even though these could have been captured by the rebels, the facts might make the government look to be guilty. If the attack were a false flag operation, no doubt, evidence could be planted as well so that investigators can find it.
The Russian account of events is based upon the fact that the Assad regime has nothing to gain from the attack and much to lose, but it also provides a somewhat detailed account of what is supposed to have happened.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aleksandr Lukasevich suggested that the whole event might have been a provocation planned in advance: “It draws attention to the fact that biased regional media have immediately, as if on command, begun an aggressive information attack, laying all the responsibility on the government,”
Lukasevich said that the attack was carried out with homemade rockets carrying unidentified substances that were launched from an area that the rebels control:“A homemade rocket with a poisonous substance that has not been identified yet – one similar to the rocket used by terrorists on March 19 in Khan al-Assal - was fired early on August 21 [at Damascus suburbs] from a position occupied by the insurgents,”
The Khan al-Assal site is one of the three the UN is to examine. An expert on chemical weapons on his blog notes that if sarin were used in the March 19th incident there was unlikely to be any evidence remaining. The Russians claim to have evidence that the attack was by rebels including the rockets used. At the time both sides accused each other of the incident: " Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi said rebels fired "a rocket containing poison gases" at the town of Khan al-Assal, southwest of Aleppo, from the city's southeastern district of Nairab, part of which is rebel-held. The substance in the rocket causes unconsciousness, then convulsions, then death".The Russian version of the present attack bears a family resemblance to the Syrian response then. The investigation of the Khan al-Assal attack will be further impeded by the fact that many witnesses to the attack were slaughtered when the al Nusra front took over the area in late July.
Russia believes that the present incident should be thoroughly investigated and at least on that issue is in concert with opponents of Assad in the west. However, it remains to be seen whether Assad will give in to pressure to allow the UN monitors access to the area. It may be a lose-lose situation for him. Even if the investigation leaves some doubt as to the responsibility for the attack, the verification that it was a chemical attack will make international intervention more likely. The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on the attack yesterday (August 21).
UPDATE: A post on July 12 from RT alleges that a rebel chemical weapons laboratory had been found:
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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