Syria: new chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta

A child died and at least 13 other people suffered breathing difficulties after an apparent chemical attack on the besieged Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta Feb. 25, medics and monitors reported. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 civilians had suffered breathing difficulties after regime air-strikes struck the village of al-Shifuniyah. One woman is said to remain in a critical condition. A doctor who treated those affected, told AFP he suspected “chemical weapons, probably a chlorine gas attack.” (Japan Times)

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin the following day ordered a five-hour “humanitarian pause” in the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta to allow civilians to evacuate. This falls far short of the 30-day ceasefire being demanded by the United Nations. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres charged that attacks by Syrian regime forces and their Russian allies has created “hell on Earth” for civilians trapped in the Damascus suburb. (Al Jazeera)

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Feb. 26 urged the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to end the “pernicious use” of the veto.  “So long as the veto is used by them to block any unity of action, when it is needed the most, when it could reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people, then it is they—the permanent members—who must answer before the victims.” While Zeid did not identify a specific veto, the comments alluded to the ongoing war in Syria, where both Russia and China have repeatedly used the veto to block efforts to try war criminals and enact sanctions against the Damascus government. (Jurist)

Russia last vetoed an investigation into Syrian chemical attacks in November. Despite mounting accusations of genocide, no high-ranking member of the Assad regime has yet faced international charges.