Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is boosting his military with Russian anti-aircraft missiles and, lately, a disturbing increase in the reported use of chemical weapons. With no US intervention, the strategy is having its desired effect as rebels announce they will not take part in peace talks.
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.