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Monday, December 11, 2023

A decade after a sarin fuel assault in a Damascus suburb, Syrian survivors lose hope for justice

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AFRIN, Syria — One summer time evening a decade in the past, the al-Shami household was woken up by a roaring sound or rockets however it wasn’t adopted by the same old explosions. As an alternative, the members of the family began having problem respiratory.

Ghiad al-Shami, 26, remembers how everybody tried to run to the rooftop of their residence constructing in japanese Ghouta, a Damascus suburb that on the time was held by opposition fighters making an attempt to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Al-Shami’s mom, three sisters and two brothers died that evening — victims of the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin fuel assault that killed a whole lot and left hundreds of others harm.

Ten years on, al-Shami and different survivors say there was no accountability for the assault and for the opposite atrocities dedicated in Syria in the course of the nation’s brutal civil warfare, now in its thirteenth yr.

Over the previous yr, Assad’s authorities — accused by the United Nations of repeated chemical weapons assaults on Syrian civilians — has been in a position to get away of its political isolation.

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Assad was welcomed again to the Arab League, which had suspended Syria’s membership in 2011 following a crackdown on anti-government protests. With the assistance of prime allies Russia and Iran, Assad additionally recaptured giant swaths of territory he initially misplaced to opposition teams.

“As we speak, as an alternative of holding perpetrators accountable, Assad is being welcomed again into the Arab League and invited to worldwide conferences, cementing impunity for essentially the most heinous of crimes,” mentioned Laila Kiki, government director of The Syria Marketing campaign advocacy group.

“To all those that search to shake palms with Assad, this anniversary ought to function a transparent reminder of the atrocities his regime has dedicated,” she mentioned in a press release.

In 2013, Assad was broadly held answerable for the japanese Ghouta assault — weapons specialists mentioned the rocket techniques concerned had been within the Syrian military’s arsenal.

The Syrian authorities has denied ever utilizing chemical weapons. Russia, Syria’s prime ally, claims the Ghouta assault was carried out by opposition forces making an attempt to push for international navy intervention.

The USA threatened navy retaliation within the aftermath of the assault, with then-President Barack Obama saying Assad’s use of chemical weapons could be Washington’s “purple line.” Nevertheless, the U.S. public and Congress had been cautious of a brand new warfare, as invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq had become quagmires.

Ultimately, Washington settled for a cope with Moscow for Assad to surrender his chemical weapons’ stockpile.

Syria says it eradicated its chemical arsenal below the 2013 settlement. It additionally joined a worldwide chemical weapons watchdog based mostly in The Hague, Netherlands, as world strain mounted on Damascus.

The Group for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has blamed the Syrian authorities for a number of lethal chemical assaults, most not too long ago for a 2018 chlorine fuel assault over Douma, one other Damascus suburb, that killed 43 folks.

Syrian authorities refused to permit investigation groups entry to the positioning of the assault, and had their voting rights throughout the OPCW suspended in 2021 as punishment for the repeated use of poisonous fuel.

Damascus has accused the watchdog of bias in favor of the West and has not acknowledged its authority. Western nations say that Syria has not absolutely declared its chemical weapons stockpile to the OPCW to be destroyed.

The Syrian authorities and its allies reclaimed japanese Ghouta in 2018, with most of its residents fleeing to the final rebel-held enclave in Syria’s northwest.

Abdel Rahman Sabhia, a nurse and former resident of the suburb, has since moved to the city of Afrin within the northern Aleppo province, now below Turkish-backed teams.

“We misplaced hope within the worldwide neighborhood,” mentioned Sabhia, who labored at a voluntary area hospital in Ghouta on the time of the fuel assault. “Why ought to we belief in them if we nonetheless haven’t seen any accountability for all the youngsters who misplaced their households?”

Sabhia says he had gotten used to airstrikes and shelling, however the aftermath of the 2013 assault was completely different. The streets had been eerily quiet, “like a ghost city,” he recalled. “We broke right into a home and noticed a child, simply months {old}, mendacity {dead} in mattress together with his dad and mom.”

On the time, dozens of our bodies had been specified by hospitals with households seeking to determine their family members. Some households had been buried collectively in giant graves.

Al-Shami, who now lives in Istanbul remembers regaining consciousness a day after the assault.

“I felt helpless,” he mentioned.


Chehayeb reported from Beirut.

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