Assad can commit war crimes with impunity

Today, April 29, I received a report from Syrian opposition activists that chemical weapons were used again, in a small town named Saraqeb, in northwestern Syria, near the city of Idlib. I can’t confirm the report, but it comes just after reports on April 25 of two chemical attacks that affected 130 civilians in the town of Daraya, not far from the center of Damascus.

I wrote about the reported Daraya attacks in my last blog post, citing Damascus-based doctors who said the victims reported muscle spasms, bronchial spasms, headaches, dizziness, vomiting and eye problems (miosis). I have attached a video that Syrian activists say shows the victims in Saraqeb (I can't confirm this but received the video from a normally reliable source).

If these reports are accurate, coming just as the White House is debating what to do about reports of previous chemical attacks in March, they demonstrate that Bashar al-Assad believes he can kill civilians with any weapon he pleases, no matter how heinous.

For months he has been bombing, shelling and dropping SCUD missiles on civilians, killing more than 70,000 people without provoking any firm response from the rest of the world. Now he’s tested the redlines set by President Obama about use of chemical weapons; he’s seen that if he keeps the attacks small enough, no one has the stomach to confront him.

“I think Assad has now passed the phase of testing,” says Maher Nana, a Syrian-American doctor and activist in the Syrian Support Group, a U.S.-based organization licensed by the U.S. government to help moderate rebels. “Now he is moving from the phase of testing American will. Now he is using chemical weapons for the psychological affect they will have on the Syrian people. This is aimed at demoralizing those who oppose him, just like the planes or SCUDs or shells.”

A few days ago, an artillery shell reportedly hit a car in Saraqeb, incinerating a mother and children (I saw a video of the results which is too horrible to post here). Now, it seems, the Syrian regime has moved to the next horror – chemical weapons. Seeing that he can act with impunity, while the world watches, Assad is probably convinced he can stay in power.

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