Syria’s deeper abyss

Stephen Neil Gershom
NSoJ Bureau
At least 72 people, including 11 children were killed in Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib province of Syria in a chemical attack yesterday. The attack, which involved the use of Sarin, a nerve gas, has left more than 550 people injured. Many of the victims which included women and children were vomiting and foaming at the mouth.
The six-year-long war has taken a heavy toll of human lives and the war-torn country of Syria has constantly been in the news for a long time now. From the air-raids conducted by Russian-Syrian forces in Aleppo against the strongholds of the Islamic State militants to the latest chemical attack in the Idlib province, the Syrian civil war became more bloody in terms of severity.
The Bashar-al-Assad led Syrian Government has been accused of the chemical attack by most governments, albeit indirectly. Washington has called it reprehensible and something that cannot be ignored. France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault condemned the ‘disgusting act’. He went on to say, “In the face of such serious actions that threaten international security, I ask for everyone not to shirk their responsibilities.”
Britain’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be guilty of a war crime if it were proved the government had carried out the raid. Media reports also said Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the “inhuman” attack could endanger peace talks. The Syrian National Coalition, a group of opposition parties in the country directly blamed the chemical attack on the Syrian Government.
Syria’s military has rejected the accusation and has said in a statement that the army “denies using any toxic or chemical agents in Khan Sheikhoun. It did not and never will use it anywhere”. Russia, which has been bombing rebel-held areas since September 2015 in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, also denied it was responsible for the attack.
Russia and Syria have blamed the gas attack on Syrian airstrikes that hit a rebel munitions store which, according to Russia’s defense ministry included “a workshop for the production of land mines filled with poisonous substances.
Experts have said that it is unlikely that this is not the work of the Syrian government. They also questioned the reason for the government to have resorted to chemical weapons when their military is doing well in pushing back the rebel forces. This is not the first time that the Syrian government has been blamed for a chemical attack on its own citizens. Investigations have found that the Assad-led Syrian government has previously been involved in three chemical attacks on its citizens.
In 2013, two opposition-controlled areas in the suburb of Ghouta in the Syrian capital Damascus was bombed with chemical weapons.  Rescue workers and UN officials have estimated that this ghastly attack resulted in the death of at least 1000 people.
During this attack, the government blamed the rebels for the attack while the west blamed it on the Assad regime.
During 2014 and 2015 following attacks with chlorine an investigation revealed “sufficient evidence” to conclude that government forces were responsible for attacks on the rebel-held village of Qmenas in northwestern Syria.
The use of chlorine as a weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. Syria joined the convention in 2013 and pledged to destroy its chemical weapon stockpile, but a UN investigation reported that there were witnesses who corroborated that a canister with traces of chlorine was found in Binnish, Idlib province, in March 2015.
The latest chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun saw the usage of a chemical called Sarin, a nerve agent. Sarin, which causes massive disruption to the nervous system, was an accidental invention, which scientists have now come to regret. It was called substance 146 when it was first invented in Nazi Germany, in 1938.  The chemical which they had accidentally invented turned out to be more than 20 times deadlier than cyanide.
Attacks like the one at Khan Sheikhoun have left the global community in shock. While the Assad government has stood firm despite several attempts to dislodge has not taken responsibility for the attacks, it is the innocent people who are caught in this spiral of violence.
Despite several peace talks and attempts at forging an alliance of warring parties by the United Nations and the Arab League, Syria seems to dive into a deeper abyss. It is of utmost importance that Syria serves as a grave warning to the global community not to ignore people’s aspirations and ground reality.

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