Sunday, February 18, 2018
News Roundup

Rebels in Syria decry chemical arms claim

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian rebels and activists reacted with resigned bitterness Friday to assertions that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, underscoring their low expectations of action by the United States and other Western countries after more than two years of civil war.

Britain and France said Thursday they have credible evidence that Syria has employed nerve agents within its borders more than once since December. In letters to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon this week, the two governments said soil samples and interviews with witnesses and opposition sources supported claims that President Bashar Assad's forces had used the chemical weapons in and around the cities of Aleppo, Homs and possibly the capital, Damascus.

The European reports constitute the first official outside allegation of the use of chemical weapons in a war that has left at least 70,000 dead and nearly a quarter of the population displaced, according to U.N. figures.

But rebel fighters and activists quickly dismissed the reports as unlikely to affect the reality of civilians and fighters in Syria, where dozens of people are killed daily and major cities have been reduced to devastated landscapes of torn concrete and twisted metal.

"The rebels on the ground have stopped paying any attention to any investigation, meetings or statement by any Western countries regarding the Syrian revolution," Mohamed Nahal, an activist based in Damascus who was reached by Skype, said Friday. The world has watched Assad batter Syria's cities and towns with airstrikes, rockets, tank shells and Scud missiles for more than two years "without doing anything for the rebels so far," he said.

The prospect of chemical weapons use poses a difficult test for the Obama administration, which has so far declined to arm Syria's disparate rebel forces but has also called chemical weapons "a game-changer."

But Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, echoed activists' predictions that the chemical weapons reports will be unlikely to spur direct U.S. involvement in the conflict.

"I don't see any great resolve to intervene. If the use continues or expands, the only time I see it becoming a real alarm is when they start to see these weapons getting out of the regime's control," Shaikh said.

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