After harrowing accounts of a chemical attack on a rebel-controlled city in Northwestern Syria hit the web, all eyes have been on Syria. It’s been reported that the United States has deployed missiles against Syria in response to the tragedy. So, here’s a quick overview of the conflict.
Early on Tuesday a chemical attack was released in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria. The attack consisted of the chemical agent Sarin, a banned nerve agent. The attack left men, women, and sadly even children foaming at the mouth, their eyes bloodshot, their pupils constricted, and suffering from severe shortness of breath and asphyxiation. As the death toll rose to about 86, and the images of dead children spread across the web, international outcry has increased tensions in Syria significantly in the last 24 hours.
The Syrian government maintains that their military has never used any chemical agents and will never do so (although US intelligence reports assert the Syrian government did in fact use chemical agents against its own people in an attack in 2013 killing over 1400 people).
The Russian government also offered their two cents (as they should since they’ve been backing the current Syrian regime, carrying out airstrikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad since 2015). Everyone obviously points the finger at the Syrian government since the attack was on a rebel-held town that has been pummeled by both Syrian and Russian air strikes for a while. And as Syria maintains they didn’t do it, Russia offers yet another explanation for the tragedy.
Russia says the target of an airstrike was a rebel munitions depot in the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun, and it was actually the rebels who were transporting chemical weapons through that depot, which in turn caused the chemical tragedy. So, in a sense, they’re saying it was an accident brought about technically by a Syrian government airstrike but the rebels are in fact responsible for the tragedy since it was they who were storing these chemical weapons, where they obviously shouldn’t have been.
Experts believe however, this account to be “fanciful” and not probable. Not to mention Russian officials have offered no proof to back up this alternate theory they proposed. Experts sustain that an explosion of these chemical agents would more likely destroy them than disperse them. Also, witnesses assert that the attack came from planes that dropped bombs, which dispersed a yellow cloud of stinging smoke. Basically, all evidence leads to al-Assad’s regime being the culprits, and yet they’re still denying it.
BACKGROUND ON THE CONFLICT
We’ve been seeing so many headlines and so many images on social media concerning the conflict in Syria, I’m convinced most of us are super confused on what actually are the issues causing so much bloodshed. Let’s quickly get into it.
In 2011, Bashar al-Assad began cracking down brutally on peaceful protests led by people who opposed his leadership. These brutal attacks involved tanks, artillery, attack helicopters, and the torture and execution of small children. These attacks and subsequent counter-attacks by rebel groups escalated the conflict into an actual civil war.
On August 21, 2013 the Syrian government was accused of dispersing a chemical attack killing over 1,400 of their own people. Obama contemplated retaliation for this, but in the end, did not interfere. Today, the death toll of the conflict has reached over 240,000.
The situation continued to escalate, turning into a regional crisis as Russia and Iran backed Assad’s regime, while the gulf states provide arms and refuge to the rebel forces.
TRUMP’S CHANGE OF HEART
President Donald Trump had maintained in the past that he would stay out of the Syrian conflict. He even went on record criticizing Obama when Obama contemplated getting involved after the 2013 chemical attacks, tweeting:
“What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict?
In addition, Trump has been heavily criticized lately for his travel ban, which infamously sought to bar Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely.
After this Tuesday’s attack however, he has had a change of heart, stating:
“These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated. My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
And changed it has. A U.S. attack on the Syrian airbase believed to have deployed the chemical attacks, launched Thursday evening.
I think it’s safe to say now that the United States is involved, the world is waiting to see what will become of the mounting tensions between the United States and Russia. Will the showdown calm the conflict, or will it just catapult the conflict into an all-out international crisis?
Putin, Russia’s president has already denounced the American attack on the Syrian airbase as “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law.” The Russian government insists the United States is severely interfering with an independent state’s fight against terrorism. By “terrorists” I guess they mean to include the women and children being pummeled by bombs and chemical agents day in and day out. Russian officials assert the attack on Syria has shut down cooperation between the United States and Russia.
The conflict may very well lead to yet another Russia-U.S. standoff. Here we go.
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