This frame grab from video provided on Tuesday April 4, 2017, by the Syrian anti-government group, the Edlib Media Center, shows victims of a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. (Edlib Media Center, via AP)
MOSCOW– In the aftermath of yesterday’s chemical gas attack in Syria’s Idlib Province, numerous governments – including those that have funded and armed rebels in an attempt to overthrow the Syrian government – have accused the Syrian army of being primarily responsible for the attack, despite no independent confirmation of their claim and no investigation into who was truly responsible for the tragedy.
As MintPress recently reported, the only information available regarding the attack so far has come from only two sources: the White Helmets and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Both groups have strong ties to pro-interventionist governments that have armed and funded rebel groups and even have ties to al-Qaeda.
However, pro-interventionist elements in foreign governments and within the Syrian opposition seem disinterested in obtaining valid information, jumping on initial accusations from dubious sources to support long-standing efforts to destabilize and overthrow the Syrian government.
Wednesday morning, while media outlets throughout the West ran headlines calling for foreign intervention in Syria with headlines like “We Must Not Look Away,” the Russian Defense Ministry announced a surprising discovery in Khan Sheikhoun the very township where the gas attack took place.
Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov publicly stated Wednesday morning that a warehouse in the vicinity of Khan Sheikhoun had been destroyed as part of a Syrian Air Force airstrike conducted midday Tuesday, several hours after the gas attack. According to Konashenkov, the facility produced and stored shells that contained toxic gas, many of which had been delivered to Iraq and repeatedly used there by Daesh militants and other extremists.
He also pointed out that the same weapons had been used by foreign-funded rebels in Aleppo in 2016 – a conclusion derived by the analysis of samples taken by Russian military experts. He also stated that the victims of yesterday’s gas attack displayed identical symptoms to those shown by victims of the Aleppo attack.
Rebels operating in the area – all of which are allied with the al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, both al-Qaeda affiliates – have rejected Konashenkov’s claims. Hasan Haj Ali, commander of the al-Nusra affiliate Free Idlib Army rebel group, told Reuters: “all the civilians in the area know that there are no military positions there, or places for the manufacture [of weapons]. The various factions of the opposition are not capable of producing these substances.”
Rebels had the means and motive for chemical attack
However, it was proven back in 2013 that not only were the rebels capable of producing chemical weapons, but they had used them repeatedly in both Syria and Iraq. For instance, UN officials have confirmed that anti-Assad rebels were responsible for the 2013 sarin gas attack in Ghouta, another attack that was prematurely blamed on the Assad regime.
In addition, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh established in his 2014 piece “The Red Line and the Rat Line” that rebels have long had the capacity to carry out chemical weapon attacks and that countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia have supplied them with such weapons.
Syria’s government, by contrast, no longer has chemical weapons, a fact established by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The organization confirmed in 2016 that all Syrian government chemical weapons had been destroyed under their supervision per Assad’s affirmation of the International Chemical Weapons Convention three years prior. OPCW’s fact-finding mission, a joint effort with the United Nations, is still active within Syria and has yet to report its findings regarding Tuesday’s attack, according to a statement released Wednesday.
In addition, questions have been raised regarding the information that has come from opposition sources regarding the gas attack in Idlib, particularly the now widely-shared images purporting to show victims of yesterday’s attack.
As Paul Antonopoulos of Al-Masdar News wrote:
[…] in the above picture, the White Helmets are handling the corpses of people without sufficient safety gear, most particularly with masks mostly used, as well as no gloves. […] Within seconds of exposure to sarin, the affects [sic] of the gas begin to target the muscle and nervous system. There is an almost immediate release of the bowels and the bladder, and vomiting is induced. When sarin is used in a concentrated area, it has the likelihood of killing thousands of people. Yet, such a dangerous gas, and the White Helmets are treating bodies with little concern to their exposed skin. This has to raise questions.”
While Western governments and the corporate media have already assured themselves of Assad’s guilt, this latest discovery – along with other notable evidence – suggests that the basis for this assumption is faulty at best. The warehouse was discovered less than a day prior to a UN Security Council emergency meeting over Tuesday’s gas attack, leading many pro-interventionist governments to suggest that Russia is merely trying to protect its ally from international criticism and retaliation.
Though the timing could be construed as suspect, Assad – on the verge of reclaiming nearly all Syrian cities from the opposition – stands little to gain from using internationally banned weapons, while the increasingly desperate NATO-armed and funded rebels are the greatest beneficiaries from the renewed calls for foreign intervention in Syria following Tuesday’s attack.
At the very least, this latest discovery of a chemical weapons warehouse demands that world leaders, pro-intervention and otherwise, must wait for a complete investigation of the incident before taking drastic action. As Antonopoulos noted: “Before the war cries begin and the denouncement of the government from high officials in power positions begin, time must be given so that all evidence can emerge.”