Syria: new chemical revelations; aid cut to rebels

Now here's a counterintuitive juxtaposition of news stories. The UN mission investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria stated that chemical agents may have been unleashed in five of seven cases investigated, occurring between March and August—not just the Aug. 21 attack at Ghouta. The other four cases that remain under investigation are named as Khan Assal, Jobar, Saraqeb and Ashrafiah Sahnaya. The mission unequivocally concluded that "chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic." (NPR, LAT, Dec. 12) Simultaneously, the US and UK suspended all "non-lethal aid" to the Syrian rebels. The cut-off came days after a newly formed "Islamic Front" seized a base and arms cache from the Free Syrian Army at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on Syria's northwestern border with Turkey. The Islamic Front recently brought together six rebel factions, and seems loosely allied with ISIS, heretofore the major jihadist army.

The FSA, allied with the Western-backed National Coalition, of course protested the cut-off, with spokesman Louay Meqdad urging "our friends" to reconsider. Reports did not mention "lethal" (or non-non-lethal?) aid from the US and Britain, but we are skeptical that any of this has ever reached the rebels anyway. The report did say that Turkey has sealed the border. (Al Jazeera, Dec. 12; The Guardian, Dec. 11; Long War Journal, Nov. 23)

Norman Solomon will be pleased by this. After the threat of US air-strikes passed back in September, he launched a campaign on RootsAction, "Next Step for Peace in Syria—Stop the 'Lethal Aid'," stating: "Top officials in Washington are happy that American 'lethal aid' has begun to flow into Syria, and they act as though such arms shipments are unstoppable. In a similar way, just a few short weeks ago, they—and the conventional wisdom—insisted that U.S. missile strikes on Syria were imminent and inevitable." Actually, some in Congress were so un-happy about the "lethal aid" that they put the proverbial kibosh on it for months. And we are far from certain that Obama's bombing plans were ever more than empty bluster.

Solomon urges his readers to urge their congress critters: "The last thing Syria needs is more weapons, ammunition and other military supplies. The US government and allies should stop sending lethal aid to rebels in Syria, while working for a reciprocal cutoff of all military assistance to the Syrian government by Russia and Iran." Of course there is no concern that until this hypothetical "reciprocal cutoff" happens, the Assad regime will have a blank check from Moscow and Tehran to crush the revolution by any means available (possibly excluding chemical weapons, lest more empty bluster be prompted from the White House).

We have noted the continued denialism about the now clearly evident reality that the rockets in the Ghouta attack were fired from a central Damascus base of Assad's Republican Guards, Mount Qasioun on Dec. 11 has a most welcome piece in The Telegraph, "Ignore the conspiracy theories: Assad was behind the Syrian chemical weapons attack." He especially calls out Seymour Hersh for continuing to spread transparently baseless speculation that anyone other than the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack. It is sad and frustrating that denouncing this shameful dictator-shilling falls to a conservative organ like The Telegraph, while the "left" is mostly promoting said ugly propaganda.

It's funny how the growing role of jihadists in the Syrian revolution is invoked as an argument against supporting the rebels, when failure to arm the rebels is exactly what allowed the jihadists to fill the vacuum. This dilemma was doubtless on the mind of US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel when he arrived in Qatar this week to sign a 10-year Defense Cooperation Agreement that allows US troops to remain stationed at the Combined Air Operations Center at al-Udeid Air Base. Hagel met with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad and Defense Minister Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah to discuss Syria on the last day of his visit. Publicly he said only the obvious: "The opposition in very fractured and it includes terrorist organizations. There's a sectarian war dynamic of this. There's a civil war dynamic of this. Iran is supporting various groups in there." (Reuters, Dec. 10) What he didn't say is that his Qatari hosts have been (whether for ideological or tactical reasons) backing the Syrian jihadists—as we have pointed out again and again and again and again.

Say what you want about arming the rebels, hopefully we can all embrace Amnesty International's urgent call for the US, European Union and Gulf Cooperation Council states to agree to take in more Syrian refugees and assure that aid goals are met for those now languishing in camps in neighboring countries. There are currently over 2.3 million registered refugees from Syria—52% of whom are children. An additional 4.25 million are displaced inside Syria. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees calls it the world's worst refugee crisis "since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago."

Meanwhile, in a development that may see further Israeli embroilment in the Syrian war, an Israeli military vehicle was damaged by a bomb set off along the Syrian frontier in the occupied Golan Heights Dec. 7. (Reuters, Dec. 8) It was unclear if it was government or rebel forces, or which faction, that placed the bomb. Where-ever the blame falls, be sure that the partisans of that side will immediately issue the requisite useless speculation about a "false flag" attack.

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Syria chemical attack: rush to denialism continues

The once-admirable Robert Parry has a new piece on the boringly predictable dictator-shilling website with the perversely paradoxical name of Popular Resistance, "Fresh Doubts About Syria's Sarin Guilt," seizing on the fact that the new UN report notes that no sarin was found in forensic samples taken from various sites around Ghouta. But the earlier report, released in September, found "unequivocally" that sarin had been used in Ghouta, based on both blood samples and rocket fragments. Does the new report repudaite the findings of the earlier one? No. Parry is grasping at straws. It also recycles the transparently bogus claims of Seymour Hersh (see above).

Even the title of Parry's propaganda exercise is telling: "Syria" is taken as shorthand for the Assad regime, as if the opposition were not really Syrians and the whole revolution were a foreign intrigue. How sickeningly pathetic that a website with the moniker "Popular Resistance" would so happily betray the Syrian opposition, which has actually earned the right to that name, the hard way.

Assad resorts to non-chemical massacres

Meanwhile, AP reports today: "Syrian government aircraft dropped barrels packed with explosives on opposition-held areas of the contested northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, leveling buildings, incinerating cars and killing at least 37 people including 16 children, activists said."

But the dead don't seem to matter as long as they are killed by "conventional" means. 

Death toll rises in Aleppo

AP reports that over 100 are dead in the regime's three-day aerial bombardment of Aleppo, with local hospitals overwhelmed. The opposition Syrian National Council accused the international community of "failing to take any serious position that would guarantee a stop to the bloodbath" ahead of the talks with the regime planned for Geneva next month.

Syria: FAIR digs hole deeper

Fairness and Accuracy (sic!) in Reporting should still be smarting over having loaned legitimacy to the now utterly discredited Mint Press story blaming the Ghouta attack on the rebels. But now FAIR is happily touting Seymour Hersh's irresponsible speculations, without even a caveat about the obvious flaws we point out here. E.g., FAIR repeatedly (and credulously) refers to Hersh's "sources," without even noting that they are all anonymous and unverifiable! As with the Mint Press claims, FAIR is chagrined into adding an after-the-fact "Update" at the bottom, noting that others (in this case Brown Moses—who they don't even bother to link to!) have "offer[ed] a compelling argument" against Hersh's claims.

They just aren't serious about getting better, are they?

Semour Hersh still betraying Syrian people

It is getting tiresome to have to keep calling out his disingenuous garbage, but thankfully others are doing the job doggedly. His latest in the London Review of Books makes the dubious case that the Ghouta attack was a ploy by Turkish intelligence. It is ably deconstructed at EA WorldView. It is truly demoralizing to see this one-time icon of rigorous investigative journalism descend into vulgar conspiracy theorizing.