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Syria: the al Ghouta incident: backgrounder

15 September 2013 


The al Ghouta incident: backgrounder

by Tim Anderson for Hands off Syria

On 21 August 2013, crude chemical weapons exploded, killing many people in parts of eastern Damascus (al Ghouta) under the control of Islamist fighters. Video images were released immediately, accusing the Syrian Army of having attacked and killed hundreds of civilians. Video also shows people walking through the laid out dead bodies; some of these have been identified as Islamist fighters. Publicity given to the al Ghouta killings derailed the attention of a UN team which had only just arrived in Damascus to investigate Government evidence of Islamists using sarin gas in the Khan al Assal area of Aleppo, in March 2013. That investigation did not take place.

Partisan evidence from Washington
The Obama administration at first simply asserted that the Syrian Government was to blame. Later they presented some circumstantial evidence (30 August). Obama was backed up by the Washington based group Human Rights Watch (10 September). They claim the Syrian Government’s motives were ‘to gain the upper hand or break a stalemate’ in certain areas. Foreign Policy magazine (11 September), claimed a UN inquiry group would produce a ‘strong circumstantial case’ against the government. The main US claims are:

  1. The ‘opposition’ (i.e. Islamist fighters) does not have the capacity to make and deploy chemical weapons. The White House and HRW both say that the Islamist ‘rebels’ have no access to the 140mm and 330mm rockets they say were used in the attack.
  2. Communications intercepts show government activity around the attacks, and the extent of social media postings is too wide to have been fabricated. In this area the Obama administration mixes the questions of whether CW were used and who used them.


Independent evidence implicating the foreign-backed fighters
Evidence implicating the foreign-backed fighters, as in previous massacres, is more specific, and the motive is more obvious: to incite a ‘humanitarian intervention’ that will help them.

  1. Islamist fighters in Syria do indeed have chemical weapons and rocket capacity. They have posted widely video and photos of their firing large blue tank-canisters from artillery. In April al Nusra stole 400 tonnes of liquid chlorine from an Aleppo factory. In May six anti-Syrian ‘rebels’ were arrested and later indicted by Turkish authorities; 2kgs of ‘kitchen variety’ sarin was seized. In July the government seized 261 barrels of chemicals from terrorist groups in Baniyas; then 26 people including soldiers were killed by al Nusra chemicals attacks in Aleppo; the army also discovered a chemical fabrication plant in Jobar (Damascus countryside), making use of ingredients from Saudi Arabia.
  2. The first independent interviews of people in al Ghouta indicated that Islamist fighters there were collecting chemical weapons. Jordan-based journalists Dale Gavlak and Yahya Abaneh interviewed: (a) the father of a fighter who said his son had died while mishandling chemical weapons provided by a Saudi man, (b) townspeople who said fighters had been sleeping in mosques and houses while their tunnels were used to store weapons, and (c) two fighters who complained they had not been trained in the handling of chemical weapons.
  3. Syrian analysts have released video which begins to identify the dead at al Ghouta, and those around them. Establishing who the victims are may be the key to proving who is responsible. Two weeks before the killings in al Ghouta many women and children were kidnapped from the site of an al Nusra massacre in Lattakia. It is believed many of these are amongst the dead at al Ghouta. Video also shows several alive and identifiable, kidnapped government supporters, later seen as dead victims at al Ghouta.

 Adam Larson says the crime at al Ghouta was either: ‘the perfect gift from the ‘regime’ to its hostile opponents, or a custom sewn false flag event of great audacity’.

Islamist fighters in country Idlib (Syria), preparing chemical weapon artillery
Islamist fighters in country Idlib (Syria), preparing chemical weapon artillery