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Burning Syria: 85 people killed with chemical weapons

Burning Syria: 85 people killed with chemical weapons

In a chemical attack (April 4) which struck the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib at least 85 people, including 20 children, died. The province in northern Syria is controlled by an alliance of rebel groups, including a powerful faction linked to al-Qaeda. According to the  World Health Organisation, the victims appeared to display symptoms that tally with the use of a deadly nerve agent such as sarin (as opposed to, say, a less powerful one such as chlorine). The war continues for the last six years. The Syrian government swiftly denied dropping chemical weapons. Russia, its ally, said a Syrian air strike had hit a rebel-held weapons stockpile, releasing deadly chemicals into the air. Leaders in the West condemned the regime, but little more. Meanwhile Donald Trump declared that his view of Syria and its dictator had changed, but declined to say what he would do about it. The attack was condemned in all parts of the world.

According to reports the Syrian government gassed to death more than 1,400 people on the outskirts of Damascus in August 2013. There was anger the world over. One week after the attack—the deadliest use of chemical weapons since Saddam Hussein gassed Iraqi Kurds in 1988—John Kerry delivered one of his most bellicose speeches as secretary of state, arguing the case for American military action in Syria. Later working with the Americans, the Russians brokered a deal that saw the Syrian regime supposedly dismantle its chemical-weapons programme. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) destroyed about 1,200 tonnes of Syria’s chemical stockpile. Barack Obama hailed the deal as a triumph for diplomacy over force. However, it seems that Syria might have held onto nerve agents and other lethal toxins, in defiance of the deal negotiated by Mr Obama and Mr Putin.

Analysts, nevertheless, wonder why Syria should have done this grave inhuman act. The diplomatic situation had been looking bright for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. With the help of Russia, he had consolidated his power, the rebels were on their heels and the United States had just declared that ousting him was not a priority. The latest chemical attack in Syria on civilians drew a response from President Trump: dozens of cruise missiles launched at a Syrian air base. Analysts point out that this attack might have been conducted by Syria to make life difficult for those rebels who are opposed to the government and who live in areas outside its control, even if it matters civilian casualties.

Syrian Civil War: Background

The Syrian Civil War is an armed conflict, grew out of discontent with the authoritarian government of President Bashar al-Assad and escalated to an armed conflict after protests calling for his removal were violently suppressed. The war is being fought by several factions: the Syrian government and its allies, a loose alliance of Sunni Arab rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Salafi jihadist groups (including al-Nusra Front) who cooperate with the Sunni rebel groups, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Syrian opposition groups formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and seized control of the area surrounding Aleppo and parts of southern Syria. Over time, some factions of the Syrian opposition split from their original moderate position to pursue an Islamist vision for Syria, joining groups such as al-Nusra Front and ISIL. In 2015, the Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG) joined forces with Arab, Assyrian, Armenian, and some Turkmen groups, to form the Syrian Democratic Forces, while most Turkmen groups remained with the FSA.

Russia and Hezbollah militarily engaged in support of the Syrian government, while beginning in 2014, a coalition of NATO countries began launching airstrikes against ISIL. International organizations have accused the Syrian government, ISIL, and some rebel groups of severe human rights violations and of many massacres. The conflict has caused a major refugee crisis. Over the course of the war a number of peace initiatives have been launched, including the March 2017 Geneva peace talks on Syria led by the United Nations, but fighting continues.

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