With exact numbers still being determined, between 48 and 70 civilians in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Syria, have been killed in what appears to be the latest chemical weapons attack in the besieged country.
According to BBC, The World Health Organization is reporting that over 500 people were affected by the chemical attack, with symptoms ranging from difficulty breathing, disruption of the central nervous system, to death. Health professionals and activists on the scene confirm that the symptoms are indicative of chlorine gas, but due to the high death toll, it is suspected that another chemical or nerve agent was used in combination to produce a more deadly effect.
Syrian activist groups shared footage taken in Eastern Ghouta, showing whole families lying dead in a basement, and outside a home, white foam coming from their mouths. For most Syrians, the protocol is to run and take shelter in basements and other lower structures in the event of bombing, but this tactic proves deadly in the case of chemical weapons use because the gas sinks, creating a chamber in whatever space individuals are seeking safety in, allowing them to more easily die.
As the Syrian Civil War rages on, now in its seventh year, civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict, with those left fleeing to other parts of the country, or to neighboring countries instead, seeking safety and peace. Many note that the brutality of the attack appears to be another source of pressure to force the remaining rebel groups to relinquish what is the left of Douma, which constitutes the rebels last stronghold in Syria.
The rebels are made up of multiple smaller groups, all in opposition to the current Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, yet each representing different interests and strategies to topple the president they so deeply oppose, and have fought against for more than seven years.
Immediate condemnation came from both The United States government and the European Union, but as the NYT noted, President Assad’s allies in Russia and Iran responded by dismissing the claims of the chemical attack. The deep division among world powers has created a situation where The United States and Russia have been in opposition, both capable of vetoing resolutions in the UN Security Council. As Russia is allied with Assad, they have been able to use veto power to halt meaningful investigation into allegations that Assad has been using chemical weapons on his own citizens.
President Trump was quick to tweet out a statement saying, “Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”
Wednesday morning, he continued his attacks via Twitter stating “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakhavova, responded by stating “Smart missiles should fly toward terrorists, not the legal government that has been fighting international terrorism for several years on its territory,” according to Reuters.
This latest chemical attack has caused somewhat of a dilemma for President Trump, as his strategy regarding Syria is still unknown. Recently he stated a wish for troops to leave Syria, citing the near complete eradication of ISIS, yet this most recent attack had a level of brutality similar to the attack approximately a year prior. This was the chemical attack that compelled him to take action, sending 59 Tomahawk missiles to bomb the Syrian air base they were suspected to have originated from.
The latest tweets are a change in pattern from President Trump’s usual strategy, as he has now called out Russia, Iran, and specially Russian President Vladimir Putin by name. The use of derogatory names, such as “Animal Assad” and “Gas Killing Animal,” represents a shift in the way President Trump views the situation. The latest aggression between The United States, Russia, and Syria represents the tense nature of finding any possible solution to the ongoing violence in the area.
Editor’s Note: Since the time of writing, President Trump authorized a joint missile strike on “chemical weapons sites” in Syria. On Fri. April 13 over 100 missiles were launched by the U.S. and its allies the U.K. and France.