(ANTIMEDIA) Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said Syrian government forces conducted coordinated chemical attacks in opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo during the final month of the battle for the city last year. HRW came to its conclusion through phone and in-person interviews with witnesses and analysis of video footage, photographs, and posts on social media. They determined that government helicopters dropped chlorine in residential areas on at least eight separate occasions between November 17 and December 13.
The attacks reportedly killed at least nine civilians, including four children.
According to HRW, the attacks took place where government forces planned to advance, starting in the east and moving westward as the frontlines moved, thereby confirming the attacks were not committed by rogue elements within the Syrian military.
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The accusation has also implicated Russia. “[W]hile there is no evidence that Russia…was directly involved in the chemical attacks,” the report notes, Russian aircraft played an integral role in the military offensives within Aleppo. Further, the U.N. found helicopters that had previously dropped chlorine were operating from the Hmeymim Airbase, which is under Russian control.
As HRW details, their organization also documented sarin gas attacks committed by Syrian government forces in August 2013. However, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour M. Hersh dismantled the evidence pinning the August 2013 attacks on Assad, stating:
“Most significant, he [Obama] failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.”
This notion runs in tandem with the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s Carla Del Ponte, who confirmed the other major chemical attack that took place previously in 2013 was most likely committed by Syrian rebels.
Further, the idea that HRW could release such a damning conclusion based merely off of social media posts and phone interviews also confirms what many independent journalists have been saying about the battle in Aleppo: no human rights groups were on the ground during the battle for Aleppo last year. As such, where has their information been coming from? The White Helmets? The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights? Even the New York Times admitted the actual population of Aleppo was unknown and could be in the mere tens of thousands. The Independent also acknowledged there was “more propaganda than news” coming out of the war-ravaged city.
Not to mention, HRW is an organization that has no problem accepting funding from Saudi Arabia, a country currently bombing Yemen back into the stone age (operations rife with the use of banned munitions). HRW called for the removal of Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council yet had no problem allowing Saudi Arabia to sit on it. Saudi Arabia has a strong anti-Assad stance in the Syrian conflict, and, therefore, one would hope the fact that the oil-rich nation helps fund HRW has no bearing on their conclusions.
None of this can absolve the Syrian regime of attacks committed by its forces. According to the U.N., the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks during 2014 and 2015 despite agreeing to destroy its supply after Obama threatened to strike the government in 2013. Consequently, it would not be too much of a stretch to accept that the regime could have used chemical weapons in the battle for Aleppo, as well, and as such, should not escape the heavy penalties that could come with such a gross violation of international humanitarian law.
Some of us just want to be sure before we blindly accuse the Syrian government of perpetrating chemical weapons attacks given the way the previous U.S. administration was so confident about Assad’s culpability in 2013 without actually presenting any evidence to the public.