Secretary of State John Kerry has issued harsh remarks about the suspected use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government in a series of attacks near Damascus last Wednesday. “The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable and – despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured – it is undeniable,” Kerry said on Monday. The Syrian opposition estimates that as many as 1300 fatalities were caused by the use of nerve gas during the military operation. Doctors Without Borders at three hospitals in the area said they had observed about 3,600 patients exhibiting symptoms of exposure to a neurotoxic agent.
UN inspectors were finally allowed into the areas where chemical weapons are suspected to have been used. However, this did not go without a hitch, as the UN team initially had to turn back after they were fired upon and their lead vehicle was damaged to the point they had to replace it. The Syrian government has blamed the shooting on “terrorists,” as it dubs the opposition. Kerry said that the delay in allowing the inspectors in has damaged the credibility of the Syrian government.
Kerry also stated that the US possesses information independent of the UN inspection that proves the Syrian government used chemical weapons during the attacks. US officials speaking under condition of anonymity have confirmed that such evidence exists, including satellite surveillance footage of activity at Syrian military installations, and tissue samples taken from victims. President Obama has already ordered that a report on such intelligence be prepared, which will be disclosed to the public ahead of any military action by the US.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that if weapons of mass destruction were used in the attacks, their use should be punished; however, a Security Council resolution authorizing UN action is unlikely as it would most likely be vetoed by Russia, and possibly China. Because of this, the Obama administration is seeking to bypass the Security Council if it moves ahead with military force.
The US has canceled a meeting between its high level diplomats and their Russian counterparts that was scheduled for Wednesday in the Hague to discuss plans for a peace conference to end the Syrian conflict. Russia, for its part, has stood by its ally the Syrian government, and defended it by saying that there is no evidence it used chemical weapons.
The Assad government has in turn accused the opposition of carrying out the gas attacks, showing on television a cache of chemical war supplies they claim the military found in Jobar.
As Kerry’s remarks were issued, the Obama administration has been meeting with members of Congress and with international allies to decide on a course of action. This most likely will come in the form of a surgical missile strike, and not a long-term military commitment to the Syrian civil war. Such a military operation would be meant to deny the Assad regime the capability to engage in any further gas attacks. Four US Navy destroyers have already been deployed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea in advance of a decision.
By Milton Ruiz