19 Mar 2013

How can we find the truth about ‘chemical weapons’ in Syria?

The first, and second, and third response to today’s news from Syria should be to bring out the heavy-duty inverted comas. So:

“Chemical weapons” attack by Syrian rebels at Khan al-Assal in the countryside near Aleppo.

For a start the regional new agencies tell opposing stories.

The Syrian Arab News agency (SANA) has reported that rebels in Syria have fired a rocket containing a chemical substance in the Khan al-Assal area of rural Aleppo. It has been suggested that up to 15 people were killed during the attack.

Shortly after the incident, Al-Arabiya reported that government forces hit Khan al-Assal with Scud missiles and cases of suffocation had been reported.

Reported symptoms have included headaches, nausea and comas.

That is, two reports each blaming the other side. I have been stopped by soldiers, civilians, refugees and rebel fighters from the tented camps of displaced families in the north, to the ruins of Homs and Damascus in the south, for month after month now – with people swearing blind that the other side is using chemical weapons.

There has yet to be any credible proof.

Screenshot from YouTube

The embarrassing scare stories put about by the British Foreign Office and US Department of State several months back about credible evidence of chemical weapons being prepared by the regime, proved to be one of the more toe-curling moments in the careers of Hague, Clinton (H) and others.

Not a shred of proof was offered from the secret services who brought you Iraqi WMD. We were supposed to take it on trust. We didn’t.

Clinton and Hague did what they did because they wanted to play war propaganda games against Damascus at a time when they thought (wrong again) that the rebels were about to storm the capital’s airport.

Today’s reports from both sides appear to fall into the same category – there being little yet by way of evidence to the contrary.

YouTube has a number of videos apparently showing anti-government rebels preparing all manner of liquid cocktails for dirty bombs. And it is technically feasible to improvise a rocket and successfully fill it with a chemical agent. Possible, but hard because the liquid agent is hard to keep stable in flight and then you have the much bigger problem of dispersal within the target area.

Of course, it’s possible one of the outside world’s worst Syria nightmares is now playing: rebels have acquired chemical missiles from the Syrian state arsenal. OK – but they’ll still need a compatible launch platform and system.

So we should be cautious. One side definitely has a large chemical and nerve agent arsenal allegedly secure so far. The other side desires to acquire dirty munitions if its propaganda videos are any guide.

The logical and distressing conclusion is thus, it is just a matter of time until it may happen. But if and when it does, we should base our conclusions firmly on real evidence and not upon the sea of Syrian lies and propaganda.

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