Chemical attacks slur
Russia will oppose a draft UN resolution by NATO powers on an alleged chemical attack by Syria’s military, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced. She said the draft proposed by the United States, Britain and France blames the Syrian government without any credible investigation.
Zakharova argued that video and photo evidence of the incident in Khan Sheikhoun, resulting in 72 deaths, presented by volunteer first responders could have been fabricated. She accused the West of staging a “political show” and called for an international probe.
Western powers and some non-governmental agencies have pointed the finger at Damascus, but all have relied on evidence supplied by people identified as medical staff or first responders working alongside Al-Qaida-affiliated jihadist groups in Idlib province.
No mainstream or independent journalists are present there because the situation is too dangerous and most media outlets rely on the one-man pro-insurgency operation run from Coventry and known as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Medecins sans Frontieres said that photographic evidence indicated a likely release of the nerve gas sarin.
Yet the Al-Qaida-linked White Helmet “civil defence” volunteers are portrayed handling corpses with exposed skin and without adequate safety equipment.
Al-Masdar news agency correspondent Yusha Yuseef reported being informed by Syrian military sources that the air force had targeted a missile factory in Khan Sheikoun, using a Russian-manufactured Su-22 fighter jet to carry out the attack.
“Most importantly, Su-22 bombs are unique and cannot be filled with any chemical substances, which is different from bombs dropped from attack helicopters,” he said.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said the jihadists had been producing and storing chemical weapons at the factory before shipping them to Iraq.
The same chemical munitions were used by militants in Aleppo, where Russian military experts took samples in late 2016, Major-General Konashenkov said.
He pointed out that both Iraqi and international organisations have confirmed the use of such weapons by jihadists in Iraq. Both the Syrian government and Kurdish YPG guerrillas have reported chemical weapons use by jihadists in Idlib, Hama and Aleppo, but this does not fit the Western media agenda and is ignored in favour of blaming Damascus.
Meanwhile, the terrorist atrocity in St Petersburg last week was pushed from the top of the news agenda by the reports of a chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun.
The Syrian town is held by opponents of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus. The BBC and Sky reported that scores of people have died following air strikes by government or Russian jets. Different claims initially put the number of fatalities at 58, 67 and 100. Some reports identified the deadly gas as chlorine, others as sarin. The reported time of the attack varied from 6:45 am local time to 7 am.
While the main source of the story is the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights (SOHR), others cited include the Edlib Media Centre, the Step news agency and a charity ambulance service in Idlib some 35 miles away.
SOHR is a one-man operation run from a private house in Coventry by long-time Syrian dissident Rami Abdul Rahman. His information or misinformation comes mostly from anti-government rebels in and around Syria and it receives extensive coverage from Reuters, CNN and Voice of America as well as the BBC and Sky.
SOHR may have links with the Edlib Media Centre and Step and all three agencies are opposed to the Assad regime. Their reports from the war in Syria focus mostly on real or alleged civilian deaths inflicted by the regime and its allies, particularly Russia.
These reports often paint events in the most lurid colours. Thus, for example, it was also being claimed yesterday that Russian or Syrian aircraft had later targeted the local clinics and hospitals treating the wounded of Khan Sheikhoun.
Although the BBC and other media outlets were careful to say at the outset that the reports were “unconfirmed”, everything was done immediately to lend them credibility. This included interviews with representatives from such worthy bodies as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and the International Red Cross, although from their vantage points in Turkey and Geneva they, too, were unable to confirm what had happened in Khan Sheikhoun.
Even so, the French government rushed to demand that an emergency meeting of the UN security council be held to investigate matters. There is no such enthusiasm when it comes to the mass killing of civilians by US and other NATO forces in Aleppo and other parts of Iraq, say, or in Afghanistan.
Of course, it’s possible that an atrocity has occurred. Events may become clearer in time, supported by evidence on the ground.
The use of chemical weapons and deliberate attacks on civilians and medical facilities by any country’s forces are war crimes that should be investigated and the perpetrators punished, without fear or favour.
One problem, however, is that honest and reliable reporting from the theatres of war is rare. Western news agencies are far too quick to report negatively about those governments and forces regarded as hostile to Western capitalist and geopolitical interests, however thin or non-existent the prima facie evidence.
This breeds scepticism and cynicism among many who believe that international humanitarian law should be upheld and enforced.