Activists and the Syrian National Coalition have reported claims of another chemical attack in Syria in the Idlib province. The incident is said to have occurred on Sunday, Feb. 4. The Syrian government, headed by President Bashar al-Assad, denies the claims that his government has used chemical weapons on its own citizens in the battle to regain control over war-torn Syria. The U.N. has condemned the actions and called again for a solution towards peace in Syria.
The Syrian National Coalition, also known as the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, is one of many opposition groups vying for power in the area. Its goal is the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, followed by a transition to a democratic and pluralistic state, according to the BBC.
Russia is a close ally of the Assad regime and has vetoed resolutions regarding the Syrian conflict and specifically attempts to point to the Syrian government as responsible for these chemical attacks. Though a joint report from the United Nations and international chemical weapons inspectors concluded that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attack, Russia has continued to prop up the governmental regime through the use of vetoes, as well as assisted military action in Syria itself.
According to CNN, President Trump had previously urged United Nations Security Council members to vote to renew the mandate of the United Nations to ensure that the Assad regime “does not commit mass murder with chemical weapons ever again.”
In 2013, Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, prohibiting the use of chemicals such as chlorine gas, which was used in the latest attacks. Though Syria joined this convention, it is questionable that they disposed of their chemical weapons stockpile and evidence from the more recent attacks are suggesting otherwise.
The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) has been documenting, treating and providing humanitarian aid to people in Syria for twenty years, and still, today works on the front lines of the conflict. According to SAMS, “Since the beginning of the conflict, medical workers and first responders in Syria have treated victims from at least 161 chemical attacks.”
SAMS also note the psychological effects of chemical weapons attacks on the people of Syria, stating “Chemical attacks have generated intense fear and psychological trauma, led to birth defects and long-term health effects, broken down communities, and driven mass internal displacement and displacement into neighboring countries.” The group emphasizes that these attacks have become the new normal, due their frequency in the lives of people living through the conflict.
According to Al Jazeera, many people are unaware of the correct course of action to take to minimize bodily harm and death in these attacks. Once the canisters full of chemicals are dropped, the gas is quickly released. Many families go into their basements to hide, as one would in other forms of attacks, but chlorine gas is heavier than air, making it sink downward where families are attempting to hide. The gas becomes trapped in the basement and effectively acts as a chamber, killing or severely injuring those within.
Though the UN condemned the actions and are investigating the reports many view this as equivalent to no action because the Assad regime continues to ignore international laws that prohibit the use of chemical weapons and their close relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia continues to shield them from consequences.