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Bashar El-Assad Has Done It. What Is Obama Going To Do?

30 August 2013

By Khalid Amayreh

The latest reports from Damascus speak of a horrific genocidal massacre of civilians on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, reportedly resulting from the use of deadly chemical gases, including the lethal nerve Sarin agent, by the regime forces.

Amateur videos appearing on al-Jazeera Arabic Wednesday showed numerous children and young men sprawled out on hospital beds and tile floors, many of them not moving while others were being treated with band-pump respirators.

In the meanwhile, Muhammed el-Said, a Syrian opposition official, was quoted as saying that at least 1200 men, women and children died when Assad forces fired missiles contained chemical agents from the Qassion hilltop on several villages in the Capital's countryside. Other sources said the death toll may reach or exceed the thousand figure. As many as 5000 were reported injured in the massacre.

Haitham el-Maleh, a prominent political opponent of the Assad regime, who was interviewed by al-Jazeera Arabic, said most of the victims died while sleeping, apparently after inhaling the deadly gases.

If ascertained, the attack would be the deadliest chemical atrocity ever since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution against the Assad regime in 2011.

It is widely believed that more than 120,000 Syrians have died so far in the confrontations between the mostly-Sunni rebels and government forces, controlled to a large extent by the Alawite minority from which Assad hails. The Alawhites, who constitute some 9-12% of Syria's population, are an off-shoot of Shiite Islam. Iran, Hizbullah and Iraqi volunteers are fighting in large numbers alongside the Assad regime.

The Syrian authorities have denied any connection to the latest massacre, which occurred as a UN team investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria was to begin working in Syria.

However, the Syrian government's denials seem to carry little credibility, given the regime's notorious record of mendacity.

It is uncertain what prompted the Assad regime to embark on the latest game-changing atrocity.

Some observers would think that Assad might have been emboldened by the feckless and indecisive western stand toward the Egyptian crisis, especially the death in recent days and weeks of more than a thousand Islamists at the hands of the Egyptian police and army.

"Assad doesn't take the American and western threats seriously. He might have reasoned that the Obama administration, which has stood passive and idle watching the regime murder 100,000 Syrian citizens, wouldn't mind seeing the regime murder a few more thousands, even through the use of chemical weapons," said Muhammed Elqique, a Palestinian journalist and political analyst.

Elqique added that Assad might has got a certain feeling that the West is giving him a sort of carte blanch to exterminate Syrians in the thousands but not in the hundreds of thousands.

"As long as he makes sure that the killing is not on a genocidal scale and doesn't assume a systematic nature, he (Assad) thinks that things would remain within the manageable sphere even if chemical weapons were used on a moderate scale."

Last year, President Obama said that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would be a game-changer and an inviolable redline.

However, it remains to be seen if Obama will be willing to act on his warnings, especially if the Assad regime's involvement in the latest atrocity is established beyond any reasonable doubt.

Khalid Amayreh is an American-educated journalist based in the occupied Palestinian territories.



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