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Vote or Die: Syria’s reelection of a mass murderer

New reports have emerged showing that Damascus has reinvented a way to massacre its own people: barrel bombs packed with toxic chlorine gas

Brooklyn Middleton

Published: Updated:

At the same time the world is applauding the Syrian regime for reportedly shipping out 80 percent of its chemical weapons and as Bashar al-Assad announces he will run in presidential elections slated for 3 June, new reports emerge that Damascus has reinvented a way to massacre its own people: barrel bombs packed with toxic chlorine gas dropped from helicopters.

In what could prove to be a truly worst case scenario, it appears the Assad regime has carved out a way to continue waging chemical warfare that is less deadly than the major East Ghouta attack but still effective at targeting large areas.

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Inaction of the international community

Despicable as the developments are; they are also entirely predictable. The collective soft response to the chemical bombardment on East Ghouta – which killed at least several hundred people and injured thousands more on 21 August – has set a precedent. Therefore, there is a high probability the international community will ultimately ignore smaller scale CW attacks.

Assad visits Maalula on Easter
Assad visits Maalula on Easter

More simply, it is nearly impossible to imagine the world will do much of anything in response to gas attacks that kill only a few - but terrorize an entire population – when the fact remains that a well-documented massacre was recorded and Assad, with Moscow’s help, negotiated himself out of any actual consequences.

As for the planned sham elections, there is no doubt Assad’s well-fed supporters will turn out to vote while other entire areas - relying on grass for sustenance - will likely not cast a single ballot.

Inarguably, Assad has become a mastermind at reinventing ways to kills his own people – systematic starvation, indiscriminate barrel bombings, and continued lower scale chemical weapon attacks – with few damning repercussions from world powers.

Brooklyn Middleton

The New York Times headline referred to it as “A Show of Democracy Amid Destruction” yet the notion of any anything resembling a democratic election in Syria in its current catastrophic state would be laughable if it was not so ineffably tragic; entire pockets of the population are being intentionally starved to death and denied critical aid. Meanwhile, Assad – despite no opponent in sight - hangs campaign posters.

Inarguably, Assad has become a mastermind at reinventing ways to kills his own people – systematic starvation, indiscriminate barrel bombings, and continued lower scale chemical weapon attacks – with few damning repercussions from world powers.

Negotiating allows Assad power

The primary reason for his unremitting innovativeness can be attributed to the fact that world powers have continued to negotiate with him. They’ve allowed gestures of pseudo-cooperation to be declared as genuine.

This was recently demonstrated when Assad briefly allowed food to enter the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp in January. This was done after four months of intentionally preventing aid from reaching the camp, resulting in dozens of preventable deaths due largely to starvation.

It was during the very beginning of the Geneva II conference that aid began to once trickle into Yarmouk, proving the Assad regime could have facilitated this all along. But as soon as it no longer served a relevant political purpose, the rebel and civilian filled camp was once again choked off; Yarmouk is now currently starving to death – literally – again.

Meanwhile, despite having a known deadly history, chlorine gas – unthinkably – was not included on the chemical weapons list the Assad regime provided to The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Once again, half measures – accepted as legitimate - are triggering deadly consequences for Syrians.

Renewed chemical attacks

On 11 April, an all too familiar scene unfolded: Syrian activists videotaped and uploaded footage to social media of several men convulsing on the floor as medical professionals gathered, frantically placing oxygen masks on their gasping faces as half a dozen young children looked on.

This specific scene reportedly showcased the immediate aftermath of a chlorine barrel bomb dropped from a helicopter on the rebel-held village of Kfar Zeita, Hama province, located approximately 125 miles north of the capital. A baby and a 70-year-old man were reportedly the only two casualties but at least another 100 people were injured in the attack.

The Assad regime mouthpiece Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) blamed the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front for the attack – without - as Eliot Higgins points out – countering the on the ground claims that the toxic agent was delivered via barrel bomb dropped out of a regime helicopter.

Further, Syrian rebels allege that regime forces waged at least four chemical weapon attacks in April alone.

French President Francois Hollande noted that France has “a few elements of information” that chemical weapons have again been used by the Assad regime but that Paris has yet to obtain any solid proof.

Dismissing the already set precedent of known chemical weapon usage by Assad forces is essentially tantamount to waiting until the regime commits yet another massacre.

Chlorine gas must be added to the official chemical weapons list and it must be exported or destroyed along with the remaining 20 percent of the declared arsenal. But if this fails to happen – and it likely will – the Assad regime has little reason to fear for repercussions.

The elections must be decried for the sham they are and the Assad regime must continue to be pressured to comply with a political transition - but if they are not and if he does not – the Assad regime has little reason to fear for repercussions.

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Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.