Syrian President Bashar Assad has vehemently denied using chemical weapons against civilians in Ghouta, a rebel stronghold. He claims that rebels staged the attacks themselves or faked the videos in an attempt to prompt the international community to intervene in a civil war in which Assad has gained the upper hand. The truth of what happened in Ghouta is still not known. But the world needs to get to the bottom of it, quickly.
Opposition activists say as many as 1,300 people have died. They circulated videos showing chaotic scenes at a hospital and rows of dead children with no apparent injuries. Doctors told Human Rights Watch that victims suffered from constricted breathing and frothing at the mouth, symptoms consistent with nerve-agent poisoning. But in the videos, first responders are seen treating patients without protective gear and do not appear to contract the same symptoms, a sign that chemical weapons may not have been used.
Both sides have accused the other of using chemical weapons in this conflict, but only one — the Assad regime — is known to possess such toxins.
But it boggles the mind why Assad would conduct a chemical attack now, just days after the arrival of a 10-member UN team sent to investigate three sites where previous chemical attacks allegedly took place. The team has been negotiating with Assad for months over the scope of its investigations. Under an agreement reached with Assad’s government, the team is authorized to investigate three sites for signs of toxins, but it will not make conclusions about which side used them.
If Assad did not perpetrate the attack in Ghouta, he should prove it by allowing UN inspectors into the area. The international community must also ensure speedy distribution of atropine and pralidoxime, two treatments for nerve agent exposure. If Assad did in fact use chemical weapons against his own people, he ought to pay a heavy price within the global community. Assad should be forced to give up his stockpile of nerve agents, or face air strikes by NATO or a special multi-nation coalition on the facilities where they are held.