On April 4th, more than 80 people were killed in a suspected chemical attack in the rebel-controlled town Khan Sheikhoun, located in the northwestern regions of Syria. Four days later, a similar attack launched on Douma killed at least 40 people. Victims were seen experiencing symptoms of foaming from the mouth, narrowed pupils, blue-toned skin, severe difficulties in breathing, and redness of the eyes.
Following the attacks, a senior official from the U.S. administration stated that not only were the victims exposed to chlorine gas, but they were also inhaling sarin, a highly toxic substance considered to be 20 times more lethal than cyanide. This claim was confirmed by The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which collected and analyzed samples from three victims. The results of the analysis indicated that victims were exposed to sarin or sarin-like substances.
The majority of countries in the international community, especially the U.S. and its allies, believe that the Syrian regime is responsible for the chemical attack. Russia, an ally of President Assad, counterclaimed that the substances were released after a bomb struck a rebel depot containing chemical weapons.
The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has since denied the use of chemical weapons on civilians, claiming that the attack was completely fabricated. In an interview with AFP news, Assad stated: "Our impressions is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack.” A Syrian military statement released after the attack also denied t using "any chemical or toxic substance.”
U.S., UK, and France Launch Air Strikes
"When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the redline. The United States of America will not allow the Assad regime to continue using chemical weapons," said U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. More than a week after the chemical attack incident, the U.S., the UK, and France launched air strikes against the Syrian government's chemical weapons facilities on April 14th, 2018. According to the Pentagon, 105 missiles were fired targeting the Barzah Research and Development Center outside Damascus and the Him Shinshar Chemical Weapon Complex outside Homs. Both target sites were heavily destroyed.
The three nations’ main justifications for the air strikes have revolved around the need to maintain an international standard against the use of chemical weapons, aiming to weaken President Assad's chemical weapon arsenal, and deter further chemical attacks against civilians in Syria. Ms. Haley claims that the U.S. is "locked and loaded," ready to initiate more air strikes if President Assad decides to continue using chemical weapons.
What were the responses?
The civilians in Syria seem to be divided over the airstrikes. While some applaud the U.S. and its allies for taking strong measures against the use of chemical weapons, others believe that the strikes are only causing more destruction in Syria. In an interview conducted by The Guardian, two Syrian residents voiced their opinions about the intervention. Wael Abdullah, a 25-year-old resident in Ghouta, stated, "This is a great step by President Trump by which he sends a hot message to Bashar Al-Assad that he can't continue killing his people by all kinds of weapons with the help of the Russians and Iranians.” Ayad Younis, a 35-year-old teacher in Damascus, expressed her concern: "This is a blatant aggression against Syria, a staged drama created by the U.S. to attack our land."
The International Community
As one of the leaders directly involved in the recent intervention, British Prime Minister Theresa May claimed that it was "legally and morally right" for the UK to launch air strikes against the Syrian government as a way of preventing "further human suffering" induced by the usage of chemical weapons.
Other Western nations showed support for the U.S., the UK, and France. Canadian President Justin Trudeau publicly stated: "Canada stands with our friends in this necessary response and we condemn in strongest possible terms [the use of chemical weapons in Syria]." While generally supporting the intervention, the Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni also cautioned the international community that while this was a “limited and target action… it cannot and should not be the start of an escalation.”
Russia, in opposition to the majority, strongly rejected the decision of U.S., the UK, and France. President Vladimir Putin described the airstrikes as "acts of aggression" and warned that further attacks would worsen the existing humanitarian crisis in Syria. The Russian delegation submitted a resolution to the UN Security Council condemning "the aggression" committed by the U.S. and its allies. However, the resolution was ultimately rejected, with only China, Bolivia, and Russia itself voting in support.
While President Donald Trump proclaimed on Twitter of the intervention "Mission accomplished," the air strikes are unlikely to alter the course of the Syrian Civil War. As an international community, our top priority should be focused on mitigating the humanitarian crisis and supporting the people of Syria.
What can we do to help?
Here are some donation links to charities that provide food, shelter, living essentials, medical aid, and hospital supplies to civilians.