US President Donald Trump has canceled his trip to South America in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government forces in the city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta. Moscow and Damascus, for their part, are pressing for a fair investigation into the allegations, maintaining that it was a false flag attack.
Last week, several media outlets reported, citing militants, that Damascus had dropped a chlorine bomb on Douma, which allegedly claimed up to 70 lives. While the United States has held the Syrian authorities accountable for the alleged attack, Bashar al-Assad’s government has vehemently dismissed the allegations, insisting that the entire incident was staged.
According to the New York Times, Donald Trump and his advisers have been discussing a military response to the purported attack, with national security officials voicing their concerns that launching an attack of the same scale as last year’s strike on Syria’s Shayrat airbase in response to the alleged sarin gas attack in Idlib would prove ineffective at halting Damascus.
The Trump Administration officials are reportedly weighing a more powerful strike on Syria, expecting that use of force is the only credible deterrent against further chemical attacks and suggesting hitting a few targets as well as extending strikes beyond a single day.
At the same time, US authorities are not disclosing the details of the potential military response, however, Trump has recently spoken with several world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, and agreed not to allow chemical weapons to be used in Syria. It remains unclear whether any of Trump’s allies will take part in the strikes.
Earlier, the US Navy had announced its decision to deploy the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group to the Middle East, along with the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy and destroyers USS Arleigh Burke, USS Bulkeley, USS Forrest Sherman and USS Farragut. While the Navy has described the move as a “planned redeployment,” it came shortly after Washington had accused Damascus of using chemical weapons.
Possible Targets of US Strikes
According to the recent report by Turkish media outlet Yeni Safak, citing International Relations scholar Zakariye Molahafci, the US has designated 22 top targets on Syria’s territory. The targets are reportedly located in the province of Homs, as well as near Russian naval facility in Tartus, where Russian servicemen are currently deployed.
The news agency has suggested that the United States, the UK, France and Israel will carry out coordinated airstrikes against Syria, paying particular attention to military airbases in Homs, Damascus, Tartus, Hama, Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and Al-Hasakah. The allies will reportedly use land, sea and air missiles to attack Syria
“The eradication of the regime’s air defense systems would shift the balances,” said Molahafci, adding that such an offensive would strike a major blow to Assad’s forces.
False Flag Chemical Attack in Douma
Washington is weighing a military response after several media outlets reported, citing militants, that the Syrian authorities had used chemical weapons against civilians in the city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, with the infamous White Helmets posting unverified pictures and videos allegedly showing the aftermath of the chlorine gas attack. Mainstream media immediately picked up the story, with some reporting that up to 70 people had died of “widespread suffocation.”
The United States immediately accused Damascus of the attack, claiming that the Syrian government, who has a “history” of using such weapons, was “not in dispute.” President Trump held a phone conversation with his French counterpart, having “exchanged data”allegedly confirming the weapons’ use in Douma, and then made another call to Theresa May to discuss the issue. The three leaders have agreed to cooperate closelywith international partners to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Meanwhile, Syrian officials have denied the allegations, arguing that the chemical attack was staged by terrorists, and the government did not need such measures to curb the militants, as the armed forces had nearly liberated Douma.
Responding to the typically unverified claims, the Russian Defense Ministry stressed that the reports about the alleged use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian forces were being spread by the White Helmets, who have been repeatedly busted for fabricating stories and providing fake footage. According to the ministry, no traces of chemical agents had been found in the area where the alleged attack had taken place, and the information was being used to undermine the ceasefire in Syria and prevent the envisaged evacuation of militants from Douma.
“As the Defense Ministry has already pointed out, the Russian military bases in Hmeymim and Tartus are under firm protection. At the same time, we expect that in the event of US strikes, if any, the lives of our servicemen will not be in danger. I think that the United States understands this and will not allow it, because otherwise Russia’s response will be immediate, as the chief of the Russian General Staff has said,” Yevgeny Serebrennikov, first deputy chairman of the Russian upper house’s Defense Committee told Sputnik.
Meanwhile, the Russian Reconciliation Center has spoken with doctors in the town, as well as the Syrian Red Crescent, who reported that they had not received any patients with signs of chemical poisoning.
UNSC Rejects Russian Resolution Supporting OPCW Mission in Douma
The 15-member United Nations Security Council has voted against Russia’s draft resolution to launch a fact-finding mission by the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in Syria; while Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Bolivia and Ethiopia voted for, the US, France, the UK and Poland voted against. Other members of the UNSC abstained from voting.
April 2017 Shayrat Missile Strike
A year ago, Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Syria’s Shayrat military base in response to another unverified chemical attack, when his daughter Ivanka, “heartbroken and outraged,” showed pictures of babies allegedly affected by sarin gas used by Bashar al-Assad.
Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike…… pic.twitter.com/3nUzrdiGzX
— President Trump (@POTUS) April 7, 2017
On April 4, 2017, media reported, based on data provided by the White Helmets, that a chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province which killed 80 people and injured over 300 – the incident was blamed on Damascus, which consistently denied the accusations, saying that the government could not use chemical weapons, because it had one, as was confirmed by the OPCW.