Syria: Rebels "admit" chemical attack - was rush to action an attempted cover-up?

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Emerging reports from Syria that rebels committed the chemical attack
raises questions over why the west has been in a hurry to attack Syria

Syria: Rebels "admit" chemical attack - was rush to action an attempted cover-up?

Dale Gavlak - an Associated Press and Mint Press News Middle East correspondent - has reported that Syrian rebels have tacitly admitted committing the chemical weapons attack in Damascus and its suburb Ghouta where Doctors Without Frontiers said over 255 people were killed.

While some of the information remains to be independently verified Gavlak, who has also worked with the BBC, reports that the identity of the perpetrator of the chemical attack may not be, as the Russian government and others warned, as clear cut as some western governments have claimed.

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LOCAL WITNESSES

The new information has come to light in a series of interviews where according to local "[...]doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.”

In one interview which Gavlak conducted with a well-known rebel leader in Ghouta - named only ‘J’ to protect the subject's anonymity - referred to an al-Qaeda-linked group claiming it supplied to insurgent groups the weapons and that because of the lack of training with them, they were set off by accident: “Jabhat al-Nusra militants do not cooperate with other rebels, except with fighting on the ground. They do not share secret information. They merely used some ordinary rebels to carry and operate this material,”...“We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,”.

Gavlak also reports that one rebel fighter who wanted to be names as 'K' for fear of reprisal said: “They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,”...“We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”...“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,”

Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighter who lives in Ghouta reportedly told the interviewer: “My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,”. Abdel-Moneim's son and 12 other rebels were killed inside a tunnel used to store weapons which they say were provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha. The dead rebel's father described the weapons to the interviewer as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.”

POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES

Should the emerging information be confirmed, it would mean Saudi Arabia - a pivotal ally of the US - could be held responsible for complicity in an atrocity aimed at a sovereign member of the United Nations. It would also stand accused of withholding information that could have prevented a proposed military attack on Syria and the consequent murder of its civilians. There would also be questions raised over what information the Saudis shared with the US and its allies in relation to the transfer of the weapons and how they were smuggled into Syria.

There have rightly been calls for the chemical attack to be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. Should those who perpetrated the attack turn out to be the anti-government insurgents then then the US and its allies such as the UK, France and others would have to distance themselves from the Syrian rebels. The diplomatic consequences would be far-reaching and in the short term the intervention the west has been pushing for would be off the table completely.

Crucially, this new development will also do nothing to quell suspicions in certain quarters that the US, UK and others had intelligence that it was their allies who committed the atrocity explaining why it sought military action urgently before evidence could emerge.

Such suspicions would also result in the US, UK and others having to deny alleged attempts at fabricating the case for military action in order to gain geo-political advantage in the region.

Should such questions remain unanswered there would be further accusations that in attempting to conceal the truth and threatening military action they themselves conspired to commit war crimes.

UK INTELLIGENCE

There is evidence that among the UK intelligence community there have been deep reservations about the UK's stance on intervention and who was really behind the chemical attack.

One former senior security advisor to the UK government and former head of the Royal Navy, Baron Alan West of Spithead, warned that the UK and US had to produce "hard evidence" of their claims of the Syrian government's culpability.

Baron West argued that such evidence was needed as since the Iraq war people do not accept such information from the government at face value anymore. He added: "It seems bizarre that we should take action before the UN team that is reporting on our behalf, to give us the report, so we should wait for that."..." I have no doubt that the Al-Qaeda group, funded by people who haven’t thought through what this really means, would be delighted if America, Britain, Turkey and France attacked Assad."

PROSECUTIONS

Any international court looking into the chemical attack atrocity would want to know what the UK government knew and when. If such a court did indict anti-government insurgents then it is not inconceivable that western officials would be cited as witnesses.

Should such an international investigation into the attack take place the question would arise of what these officials told David Cameron's government? British citizens need not be reminded of the widespread view that former Prime Minister Tony Blair fabricated the case to go to war in Iraq - a war that saw over a million Iraqis killed. Cameron would face allegations that he also lied to parliament as well as the United Nations.

There are now growing calls for an investigation into the Damascus atrocity. The Scottish National Party's (SNP) Westminster leader Angus Robertson said: "No belligerent in Syria or elsewhere should get away with using these horrific and indiscriminate weapons and the International Criminal Court or a specially established war crimes tribunal should indict suspects."

What is clear is that should the Gavlak interviews be increasingly confirmed on the ground then it would likely mean the conflict will be over and the US-backed insurgents will have lost. Furthermore, the US and its allies would have to give up on whatever their agenda has been in relation to Syria.

On the other hand, a rapid military attack would have the effect of undermining any and all efforts at confirming blame one way or the other.

 

Dale Gavlak is a Middle East correspondent for Mint Press News and the Associated Press. Gavlak has been stationed in Amman, Jordan for the Associated Press for over two decades. An expert in Middle Eastern Affairs, Gavlak currently covers the Levant region of the Middle East for AP, National Public Radio and Mint Press News, writing on topics including politics, social issues and economic trends. Dale holds a M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago. Contact Dale at dgavlak@mintpressnews.com 

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commented 2013-08-31 21:30:23 +0100 · Flag
A key test will be how long it takes for the BBC or any of the main news channels to pick up on this report and report it in their news bulletins. I would not be surprised if it never sees the light of day there. The story needs confirmation but there must be hundreds of highly skilled newshounds in the region well able to investigate and refute or confirm.
commented 2013-08-31 18:05:52 +0100 · Flag
Ya salaam! so Bashar is not quite the devil incarnate. Just a leader protecting his country from foreign invaders and meddlers and extremists. That will make little difference to the anglosaxon (and french) warmongers. Obama, Cameron and Hollande so unpopular at home. A little foreign adventure inflates the parts democracy deflates. The US is now THE leading rogue terrorist state. The evil empire has finally come home; and the sooner we get out of this catamite
UK “special relationship” the better. Long live Syria!
published this page in News 2013-08-31 17:07:33 +0100