The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights posted to its Facebook page Aug. 21 claims, based on witness reports, of a chemical gas attack on the eastern Damascus suburbs. Dozens were reported killed and hundreds injured in the towns of Erbin, Zamalka, Ein Terma and East Ghouta. Al Jazeera puts the death toll at "at least 100," and notes that Syrian authorities dismissed the reports as "baseless." The Syrian National Coalition is apparently putting the toll at 650 lives. The claims coincide with a visit to Syria by a 20-member UN team to investigate three sites where chemical weapons were allegedly used over the past year. Al Jazeera and Russia Today report Moscow's rejection of the claims. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the timing of the claimed attack "makes us think that we are once again dealing with a premeditated provocation." Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich charged that "biased regional media have immediately, as if on command, begun an aggressive information attack, laying all the responsibility on the government."
It is another case of the usual suspects blaming the usual suspects. Iran's Press TV runs a commentary entitled "US raises false flag on Syria." It opens with this predictable passage:
A false flag is being hoisted. It is a big one, with garish colors, and it signals large-scale war. Needless to say, it is the Americans who are doing the deceitful hoisting. When it comes to deceit, they are only outclassed by the Israelis. Every sane person knows that, in Syria, it is the insurgents, particularly the Takfiri [Shi'ite pejorative for Sunni militants] lunatics, who are using sarin gas. The evidence is clear. It includes videos as well as testimony from casualties and medical staff.
Oh, "every sane person knows," eh? OK, good. Otherwise we might have to actually do an investigation and pay attention to the facts. Although we are told "the evidence is clear," Press TV doesn't present any, not even with a link to the supposed "testimony from casualties and medical staff." The best they can do is echo the claims of UN investigator Carla Del Ponte over one incident back in May. Even this is presented with a glaring misquote. A few minutes on Google will reveal that Del Ponte did claim that the Syrian rebels "may have used" sarin gas (see The Independent, May 6). But Press TV's purported quote from Del Ponte to Swiss TV accusing US propaganda against Assad of being "on the Joseph Goebbels principle" is purely fictional. Press TV apparently got it from the right-wing crackpots at Rense—but that line was Rense's own editorializing, and not from the Del Ponte quote they lifted, which was limited to: "Sarin was used on the part of the opposition, rebels, not by the government authorities." Very professional, Press TV.
The relentlessy conspiranoid InfoWars seizes with glee on a Reuters quote from Rolf Ekeus, a retired Swedish diplomat who served as a UN weapons inspector in Iraq in the '90s, who had this to say on the new allegations: "It would be very peculiar if it was the government to do this at the exact moment the international inspectors come into the country… At the least, it wouldn’t be very clever." InfoWars touts this under the utterly misleading headline "Hundreds Dead In Syrian Chemical Attack As Even Impartial Experts Allege 'False Flag'"—which Ekeus didn't do! At best, his comment was an allusion, not an allegation.
Russia's Pravda (yes, it still seems to be around) offers this headline: "Syria: The predictable and false 'chemical' attack"…
And just as the UN inspectors arrive… there is a so-called "chemical" incident, a false flag one of course, again, but once again, not a very intelligent ploy by the Syrian "opposition". If one is going to set up a false flag chemical weapons attack, one has to make sure it is deployed in an area where there is a massive advantage in using such weaponry, namely in an area where there is massive advantage to be gained in an active theatre of war.
So, in an area where there has been fighting until recently but where the Syrian Arab Army (Government) has been making steady progress and where the terrorist opposition forces have been getting hammered, it does not make sense for the Government forces to use nerve gas, and it makes no sense at all to use it against large numbers of civilians, including children, who appear to comprise the majority of the victims. [Ellipses in original]
Ironically, even the gung-ho GWOT-boosters at Long War Journal note the Ekeus quote, and write that "it is…conceivable that rebels used the chemical weapons in an effort to frame the Assad regime." As we've noted, neocons and Zionists are divided on whether to give Assad a shove or prop him up as the Devil they know. Long War Journal seems to be throwing in its lot with the latter camp.
Do the conspiranoids grasp the irony that they are doing exactly what they accuse the US of doing—rushing to a conclusion before the facts are in, on the basis of political convenience? We will wait for more objective parties to weigh in on whether there was any "massive advantage" to the alleged attack for the Assad regime. But if it is not contested that the regime was raining artillery fire on these same suburbs (as the Observatory report also said), we wonder if they are really as pacified as Pravda would have us believe.
Furthermore, all this talk as if the claims originated from the White House ignores the fact that they didn't—they originated from Syrian human rights observers. The White House has thus far been nearly silent on the matter, issuing only a perfunctory statement of "concern"—as columnist Max Fisher decries in the Washington Post.
Not to mention that the fixation on use of chemical weapons is a little perverse. Just a few months ago, the death toll in the Syrian war over the past two years was placed at 60,000. On July 25, BBC News reported that the UN had released a new estimate, of more than 100,000. It presumably makes little difference to the dead whether they met their demise via sniper fire, artillery shells or poisonous gas.
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