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article imageOp-Ed: Where did rockets used in Damascus sarin attack originate?

By Ken Hanly     Sep 23, 2013 in Politics
Damascus - The UN report on the chemical weapons attack in Syria has information about the specific rockets allegedly used in the attack. Apparently at least some were manufactured in the Soviet Union in 1967.
On the 21st of August, an attack in Ghouta a suburb of Damascus killed hundreds and perhaps over a thousand individuals depending who is doing the counting. The UN report on the incident shows that these rockets were from the former Soviet Union. Robert Fisk has a recent article in the Independent that discusses the new Russian "evidence".
The Russians apparently have the date of exports of these rockets that were manufactured in the Soviet Union in 1967. According to the Russians, the specific rockets were exported to Yemen, Egypt, and Libya then ruled by Gaddafi. These claims have yet to be verified by documents. Putin has never explained why he told Obama how he knows that Assad's army did not fire the missiles. No doubt part of the reason could be that the munitions involved were never sold to Syria. I am surprised that the missiles date from 1967. Does Assad have no more recent rockets but had to use rockets that are over four decades old?
After Gaddafi's ouster in 2011, many Soviet-made arms fell into the hands of rebel groups some of them al-Qaeda-linked. Some of the weapons have been found in Mali and as far away as the Sinai. The Syrian government has long claimed that the Soviet-made weapons are in the hands of rebels. Qatar is said to be paying for arms shipments to the rebels.
There is no doubt that Syria itself has a considerable chemical weapons armoury or even that they have 122mm sarin gas missiles. Nevertheless if the Russians have actually been able to identify specific missile markings and if these munitions were never exported to Syria, this raises serious questions about the alleged proof that Assad is responsible for the attack.
Fisk notes that this is a world where propaganda is more influential than truth any journalistic attempt to find the origin of the chemicals used in the chemical attack in Ghouta is fraught with difficulties. Journalists reporting from rebel held areas are accused by the Syrian government as siding with terrorists. Those reporting from the government held areas are accused of supporting the Assad regime. Fisk notes that even if Assad did not launch the August 21 attacks his government is guilty of many war crimes such as torture, and the bombardment of civilian targets with heavy weapons.
Fisk claims that the UN and other international organizations are expressing doubts that the gas missiles were fired by Assad's army. Unfortunately, Fisk provides no references for this assertion. The UN report in several places notes that the evidence they collected could have been altered or even planted. Media reports seldom seem to point this out: "As with other sites, the locations [had] been well travelled by other individuals prior to the arrival of the Mission. Time spent on the site was … limited. During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence [was] moved and possibly manipulated. "
Fisk noted that some of these employees asked questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered. " Why, for example, would Syria wait until the UN inspectors were ensconced in Damascus on 18 August before using sarin gas little more than two days later – and only four miles from the hotel in which the UN had just checked in? Having thus presented the UN with evidence of the use of sarin – which the inspectors quickly acquired at the scene – the Assad regime, if guilty, would surely have realised that a military attack would be staged by Western nations. "
Now Syria is set to lose its entire long-term defenses against an attack by nuclear-armed Israel. Fisk finds the whole scenario difficult to believe: "if Western leaders are to be believed, it wanted to fire just seven missiles almost a half century old at a rebel suburb in which only 300 of the 1,400 victims (if the rebels themselves are to be believed) were fighters. As one Western NGO put it yesterday: "if Assad really wanted to use sarin gas, why for God's sake, did he wait for two years and then when the UN was actually on the ground to investigate?""
The Russians also claim that the alleged sarin attack that killed 26 Syrians in Khan al-Assal on the 19th of March was launched by rebels. The Russians claim that they presented the UN with over a hundred pages of evidence. As with other Russian evidence it still has not been made public. There are still plenty of questions that remain unanswered.
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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