Syria's President Bashar al-Assad's stepped up military efforts -
new Russian anti-aircraft missiles; imported fighters from Lebanon
and Iran; and lately, increased use of chemical weapons - are having
their desired effect. Today, Syria's main opposition group announced
it will not take part in peace talks even as the regime appears to
be gaining in military strength.
Particularly disturbing are reports of the Assad regime's
increased use of chemical weapons. Since March, the trickle of
reports has become a flash flood. What's now clear is that Mr.
Assad, absent outside intervention, is willing to make the use of
unconventional weapons more conventional as he seeks to end his
government's military stalemate with rebels.
On May 26, rebel fighters and civilians in the Damascus suburbs
of Harasta, Qaboun, and Jobar reported that numerous residents
suffered from respiratory problems, nausea, and other symptoms of
chemical nerve agents. Three people were reportedly killed in the
suspected attack while at least 70 others were reported injured.
Recently-posted video footage from the area portrayed both Syrian
rebels and military troops fighting with gas masks.
On May 16, British media sources claimed to have verified footage
of an April 29 chemical weapons attack in the town of Saraqeb. Two
canisters were reportedly dropped from government helicopters,
releasing gases that caused similar symptoms among residents.
On May 26, French journalists released footage taken on April 13
showing a chemical attack on Syrian rebel positions in the Damascus
suburb of Jobar. The footage and other evidence have been passed to
French intelligence, which has stated that it will issue a
confirmation of the reports in the coming days. The Assad regime
denies using chemical weapons.
Currently, the majority of the attacks have been reported in
strategic Damascus suburbs being contested by rebels, each of which
allows access to either the center of the city or main highways.
Other attacks have been reported in the cities of Aleppo and Homs,
which are also considered to be highly valuable by the Assad regime.
Combined, these continuous attacks paint a disturbing picture.
Assad has resorted to limited, localized attacks using chemical
weapon variants in key fronts in the conflict to achieve a far
greater strategic goal as his forces gear to launch a major
offensive to rid the Damascus suburbs of rebel presence in the
The use of such weapons in a sporadic fashion is an attempt by
the Assad regime to offset an ongoing stalemate in the Damascus
area, which has remained in place since a rebel advance during the
summer of 2012. The Assad regime has since been unable to force a
retreat of rebel militias using ground forces or heavy artillery
bombardments, although they have prevented them from advancing into
the capital's center.
The regime's reported escalation into chemical weapons usage
follows a similar procedure used to introduce heavy artillery
bombardments and air power at earlier stages of the conflict.
Before employing wide-scale artillery bombardments, the Assad
regime tested the international community's reaction by using the
tactic in a single instance. The 2012 assault of the Baba Amr
district in the city of Homs looks to have been its test case. …