Syria chemical weapons debate continues as Assad makes rare appearance


A picture shows destruction in the Al-Sukkari district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 5, 2013.



ALEPPO, Syria—The Syrian regime is being urged by the UN to open itself to chemical weapons inspectors after mostly Western governments said the munitions were likely used by government soldiers.

The calls came early this week amid growing pressure on US President Obama to increase support to Syrian rebels.

Obama has previously said that Syria's use of chemical weapons was a "red line," but it remains unclear what the US would do if evidence of a chemical weapons attack was conclusive.

Obama said Tuesday that he would not rush head first into conflict before all the evidence was in.

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"We don't know how they were used, when they were used, who used them," he said during a press conference.

"We don't have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened."

Syria continues to deny that it used chemical weapons.

Kurd residents and hospital staff in the Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood of Aleppo told GlobalPost they believed a family there suffered a chemical weapons attack on April 13, in which some of the members were killed.

But weapons experts who studied photo and video evidence obtained by GlobalPost say both the spent munitions and symptoms displayed by the victims are inconsistent with a chemical weapon such as sarin gas. 

The credibility of the allegations will likely weigh heavily on any decision by the Obama administration to intervene in the Syria conflict. 

"What faction of the Syrian conflict would be motivated to conduct an attack like the one on April 13 is unclear," GlobalPost's April 30 report said. Some "accuse the Free Syrian Army of trying to rope foreign powers into the conflict by feigning a chemical attack."

Many Syrians fear that chemical weapons will escalate the conflict and the killing to a new level.

When he was told 22 patients were on route to his hospital suffering from what appeared to be a chemical weapon attack in Aleppo, the director of the Avreen Hospital in Afrin, Dr. Kawa Hassan, said he was very afraid.

"I was scared, not for myself, but for all of Syria. I didn’t think it would come to this,” he said during an interview at the hospital. 

"If he begins a chemical war, he will kill us all," he said.

But for others inside Syria, the use of chemical weapons is just one of numerous killing methods used in a bloody war that has dragged on for more than two years.

"Why is the West so concerned about chemical weapons?" asked FSA fighter, Abu Abdo, on the Aleppo frontline last week. "If they have used chemical weapons or not, what difference does it make? No one cared when the regime killed us by air raids. No one cared when they killed us by Scud missiles. No one will care when they kill us with chemicals either. No one will help us."

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In order to "establish the facts" of whether or not chemical weapons were used, United Nations has already put together a 15-member group of experts to investigate, said the New York Times.

But so far, the Syrian government has not given them permission to travel to the country.

On Wednesday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited the Umayyad electrical plant in Tishreen Garden in central Damascus, according to his Facebook page.

Assad, who rarely goes out in public, was seen in a photo with plant workers as a part of May Day celebrations.

Syria's three-year uprising has reached a stalemate that has so far avoided heavily drawing in foreign countries.

However, this week Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said that he would not let Syria fall to America, Israel or extremists and would fight to prevent Assad from falling.

He acknowledged that Hezbollah fighters were helping government troops in Syria battle the rebels.

The Syrian National Coalition denounced Hezbollah's remarks Wednesday. 

GlobalPost's Tracey Shelton contributed reporting from Aleppo, Syria.