After the intense walloping in international fora over the purported chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on Wednesday, the Syrian regime has allowed the United Nations to probe the attack. A team of UN experts was there in Syria when the attack in the suburbs of Damascus took place. The group was there to probe another purported attack much before the latest one killed around a thousand people. Following the international outcry after the massacre, the Syrian regime seems to have buckled. But the probe by the team of 20-strong UN inspectors is unlikely to throw up evidence of the use of the suspected poison gas sarin. It is likely that after the incessant shelling of the areas much of the evidence has been lost and whatever remained would have been tampered with.
However, that the regime has allowed UN inspectors to start the probe from today is significant enough. Yesterday, Assad’s government said that it had proof the rebels used the poison gas on innocent civilians. The chemical attack is thought to have been launched with the help of rockets that were used as the delivery system for the chemical agent. Few would agree that the opposition, a conglomeration of disparate groups across Syria, has the expertise and wherewithal to launch such an attack. Even if it is assumed that the gassing was a handiwork of the rebels, it is hard to believe that they will be willing to kill hundreds of their countrymen, who they have been trying to help by waging a battle for the overthrow of Bashar Al Assad. They also act as a bulwark against Assad’s forces making inroads into civilian areas where anti-regime sentiments run high. On the other hand, the allegation that government forces used the chemical agent to kill apparently sounds unconvincing. The UN inspectors were already in the country when the attack in question took place. Is the regime of Bashar Al Assad foolish enough to risk discrediting itself in the eyes of the international community (though it hardly has much credit left) due to such an act? But what about an unintended attack by the regime forces?
There have been continuous defections in Assad’s forces since the conflict began more than two years ago. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that there are dissident elements in the military who haven’t been able to desert. It may be the work of such members of the military who want Assad to go.
There is another possibility. The protracted conflict has taken such a toll on regime forces that command and control structures have probably gone haywire and military management has been heavily strained. This could have led to a mix up or glitch resulting in the chemical weapons being fired due to the lack of checks and balances.
Whatever the reason for the ghastly assault, the evidence would have been obliterated by now and the UN team would find it hard to probe the use of chemical weapons at the site•