Chemical weapons in Syria, an untamed disaster

Randa Takieddine

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The U.N. mission to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria received the news that the bodies of six people, who were killed in rural Damascus in Adra and Oteiba after the exposure to what was believed to be chemical weapons, were in a morgue of Douma. The families agreed to autopsies for the corpses, while 30 people were found to have signs of being exposed to chemical weapons.

They expressed their readiness to cooperate with the investigation, while residents of Oteiba and Adra are asking the U.N. mission to test the traces of chemical materials on plants and animals, to gather evidence about the use of chemical weapons.

It is certain that the Syrian regime has chemical weapons; this was acknowledged earlier when a regime official said his government would not use them. The use of chemical weapons by the regime against its people is an additional, huge crime that can be added to the shelling, murder and execution of civilians and families throughout the country.

Non-existent ‘political solutions’

During a news conference in Israel, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons would be a "game-changer," indicating that it was a red line. But what is the meaning of a red line for a president who has refused to provide any protection for the Syrian people being killed every day?

More than 100,000 people have lost their lives thus far, while Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are arming and supporting the regime. The U.S. president is content to make statements and advise against the arming of the opposition, out of fear that the weapons will end up with the Nusra Front. It is as if Russian and Iranian weapons cannot fall into the hands of extremists. The massacres are increasing and the number of people being killed is rising. This cannot stop without a decision by leading countries to protect the Syrian people from the air, through a no-fly zone, as with Iraq when Saddam Hussein bombed the Kurds with poison gas.

What is the meaning of a red line for a president who has refused to provide any protection for the Syrian people being killed every day?

Randa Takieddine

It is clear today that talk about a political solution is designed to give the Syrian regime more time, to continue with the liquidation of its people and the destruction of the country, through a civil war that will prevent it from recovering. The former head of the opposition National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, was capable of putting together a group that can set down a political, legal and judicial plan for the post-Assad period, along with patriotic elements from all segments of Syrian society.

However, al-Khatib required true, robust and ongoing support, which currently does not exist. France has gone back on its earlier readiness to arm the opposition, if the European Union does not lift its weapons embargo in May. There are EU countries that oppose such a move, and became angry with President Francois Hollande's statements. At first, he said France was ready to take responsibility if the EU refused to lift the embargo. But the reality is that the EU's stance, splits in the Syrian opposition, and the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the opposition, as well as the stances of some French groups to arming the opposition, in Hollande's Socialist Party as well as the conservative opposition, have had an impact on Hollande's position, which has seen some backtracking.

U.S. stance is just talk

In addition, there is the position of Obama, who opposes military circles in Washington in his rejection of arming the Syrian opposition, which does not encourage the EU to drop the embargo. In general, these countries follow the U.S. line in their policies. Washington's stance, which Obama declared in saying that chemical weapons are a red line, is just talk. Where does the investigation stand up to now when it comes to the use of these weapons, and who used them? Obama's threats about a red line are practically empty ones, as long as no real red line is laid down, and not just talk, about the killing of more people by chemical weapons in Syria. Obama lost his credibility on Arab issues, led by the Palestinian issue, during his visit to Israel.

The visit was totally biased toward Israel and Israel's security; as for Obama's statements on Syria, they are ineffective. Obama has left Syria to Russia and Iran, just as al-Maliki's Iraq has been given to Iran. It was noteworthy that Secretary of State John Kerry told his French counterpart Laurent Fabius that the al-Maliki administration of Iraq is bad, and that he has helped stoke the Sunni-Shiite conflict, and that his rule was leading to dictatorship and authoritarianism, and full Iranian influence. It as if the U.S. has washed its hands of Iraq. Relying on Obama's policy to save Syria is pointless; the U.N. should urgently examine the disaster of chemical weapons, without relying on Obama's red lines.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on April 3, 2013.

Randa Takieddine is a Lebanese writer and the director of Al-Hayat newspaper office in Paris. Her writing focuses on regional Middle eastern conflicts, with other interests in global energy issues.

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