According to Syrian activists, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have killed hundreds of people in an August 21 attack, said to be the deadliest to date, on the towns of Zamalka and Ein Tarma as UN inspectors visited the nearby city of Damascus. Opposition forces claim that poison gas was used in the attack.
Some are pointing to the attack as a reason for the United States to commence military engagement in Syria, recalling President Obama’s assertions that a chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime would serve as a “red line." Skeptics, however, are questioning the validity of these claims.
“Firstly, the timing is odd, bordering on suspicious,” writes BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner. “Why would the Assad government, which has recently been retaking ground from the rebels, carry out a chemical attack while UN weapons inspectors are in the country?”
Similarly, Swedish diplomat and former UN weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus told Reuters, “It would be very peculiar if it was the government to do this at the exact moment the international inspectors come into the country ... at the least, it wouldn’t be very clever.”
Charles Lister, an analyst at HIS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center also questioned the timing of the attack. Lister told the Jerusalem Post, “Logically, it would make little sense for the Syrian government to employ chemical agents at such a time, particularly given the relatively close proximity of the targeted towns to the UN team.”
And chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom, who is currently leading the current UN inspection in Syria, told Swedish broadcaster SVT that the high number of victims alleged in the attack seem “suspicious.”
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Photo of Syrian man mourning over victims of chemical attack in Damascus: AP Images