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RT: There has not been any form evidence of this attack or who is behind it. So why are we seeing such a harsh condemnation of the Assad government? Syria has no control over the site where the alleged chemical attack took place, argues Oxford University historian Mark Almond to RT, adding that the opposition controls the area and Damascus can’t guarantee security or even entry for UN experts.
Mark Almond: In part it is because key Western governments, America, Britain and France, want to say “Gotcha”. They have been demanding the fall of Assad for more than two-and-a-half years now and it has become increasingly frustrating that his regime has shown much more resilience that they had expected, despite the resources that they and the Gulf Kingdoms have thrown into the war on the other side.
It is also like a distraction from the embarrassment of Egypt, where we see the European and the US governments basically using weasel words to avoid any kind of condemnation of a massacre in the streets of Cairo. So there are both the specifics of Syria and the context of what is going on elsewhere in the Arab world, especially in Egypt.
RT: Is it likely that Assad will launch such an attack at the time UN investigators are visiting Syria and of course the consequences of the chemical attack anyway?
MA: You have to ask with any crime scene, to whose benefit is the crime? And the Syrian government would have to be not only very brutal, but very stupid to have done this in a period when UN chemical weapons inspectors are just down the road in Damascus.
Secondly, if they had done this, if they have launched a very large scale chemical attack, surely they would have sent in special troops under the cover of the chaos caused by such an attack to occupy the area in order to precisely prevent the kind of films and pictures emerging that have been sent around the world by the opposition. This, after all, is the area controlled by the opposition. So a further problem arises with the demands Syrian government permit experts to visit the scene. Syrian government does not control the scene of the crime, if this crime is being committed. It is up to the rebels. Yet we see no attempt to press the rebels to cooperate. So in fact, it seems to be primarily to embarrass the Syrian government, to say, “Why don’t you let the experts go to the scene?” where the fact is they don’t control the scene and therefore could not guarantee their security or even possibly enable them to enter the area where these attacks are supposed to have taken place.”
Syrian rebels claim to be a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, 2013 (AFP Photo / HO / Shaam News Network)
RT: What would the rebels gain for this?
MA: We do have some very radical groups who would no doubt say, as they have when they have been challenged about using suicide bombers, killing innocent people, that God will recognize his own when the dead die, that he will save for heaven the justified victims and just send to hell the wicked supporters of Assad. So it is not impossible that somebody has staged this.
One thing we have to remember is that amongst chemical weapons experts there are considerable suspicions about what exactly the weapon or the substance has been. If it is sarin gas, which was supposed to be one of the most deadly nerve gases - why do we see such various symptoms, why do we see so many people who do not seem to be affected by the weapon, why do we see people operating in the area without wearing protective clothing? This is a nerve gas, it is not just something that kills you if you breathe it in. It enters through your pores through the skin. So it is that basic question that the most advertised source of the deaths that we have seen in pictures does not seem likely to be the weapon.
Secondly, if it is a poor low-grade version of sarin, then probably it is not made by the Syrian government’s laboratories, functioning in peace and security until very recently, but possibly by people using the elements that you find in various insecticides used on animals which contain some of the precursors for sarin. That is how Nazi scientists invented sarin in the first place. They were making an insect pesticide and then discovered they have found something very deadly, which could be used on people.
So we don’t know exactly what the weapon is and unfortunately, because of where it has been used, we can’t really ascertain who might have used it because there is no independent observation of the scene of the incident.”
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.