The bodies of hundreds of men, women and children after the ghastly attack on a Damascus suburb yesterday point to the extent to which the Syrian crisis has worsened. As the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Assad and the opposition pointed a finger at each other for the gas attack that is said to have killed 1,300 people, bodies of scores of children frothing at the mouth told a sordid tale. While world leaders expressed their shock, the international community was divided along pro-and anti-Assad lines. But the children hit by the attack cried inconsolably —from burning eyes and by the shock of what happened to their parents. Like the men and women who scampered around, they didn’t know which side was responsible for the deadly assault. For the dead and injured, it would hardly matter if it was the regime troops or the rebel forces.
Many of those dead had constricted pupils and a pale body, symptoms of sarin —a nerve agent — attack. The opposition, which is fighting to overthrow Assad for more than two years, claims that rockets launched by the regime on a Damascus suburb released lethal fumes that killed people in their sleep.
The attack comes at a time when a UN team is in Syria to investigate claims of the use of chemical weapons earlier in the revolt. Russia, a long-time ally of the embattled Assad, said that the very presence of a UN team suggests that the regime is not to blame for the attack. Assad’s government also issued denials. In the other camp, Britain said that the incident is proof that those supporting the Syrian president should wake up. So, who is to blame?
The UN Security Council was meeting in New York yesterday do decide on a course of action in the aftermath of the incident that sent shockwaves across the world.
The White House called on the United Nations to urgently investigate the attack. In the more-than-two year old conflict, Washington’s role has been in the spotlight. Obama had come under considerable pressure for intervening in Syria. Rebels, often routed by regime forces, have asked for more proactive support from Washington. US President Barack Obama has made the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces a “red line” that already in June triggered more US aid to the rebels.
The latest massacre is likely to increase pressure on Obama to intervene in Syria, either through increasing weapons support to the rebels or militarily. Direct military intervention by the US, despite the intensity of the crisis, is unlikely given Obama’s approach to the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan. If it is Assad who ordered the attack, it might prove to be another step to his nemesis. If it is the opposition, it would be difficult to fix blame as the rebels are a disparate group of fighters professing separate ideologies. Whether the regime did it or the rebels, the use of chemical weapons on innocents is a heinous crime and the perpetrators should be brought to justice by the international community•