White House under pressure over Syria

Written By komlim puldel on Jumat, 23 Agustus 2013 | 20.02

This image provided by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show a young victim of an attack on Ghouta, Syria recuperating in a hospital. Picture: AP Source: NewsComAu

  • France pledges force over alleged gas attack
  • 'Chemical' horror: Activists claim 1300 dead
  • Distressing images of victims released
  • Bodies lined shoulder-to-shoulder in tragedy

THE United Nations and the United States have called for an immediate investigation into the alleged massacre in Syria, as worldwide revulsion over photos of child victims grows.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said the allegations "need to be investigated without delay". Obama administration official Jen Psaki said the White House has a range of options available if accounts of a massacre are verified. 

Images released yesterday featuring the bodies of dead children lined up on the ground --  some residents placed chunks of ice on the bodies to preserve them until burial -- sparked international condemnation.

Activists said the Syrian regime killed at least 1300 people with toxic gas, although casualty estimates varied substantially.

The latest developments come as France is seeking a reaction with "force" if a massacre in Syria involving chemical weapons is confirmed, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

Syria has denied opposition claims that chemical attacks on several Damascus suburbs killed 1,300 people including children. Mana Rabiee reports.

"If it is proven, France's position is that there must be a reaction," Fabius told BFM-TV, speaking of a "reaction with force" while judging it "impossible" to send ground troops.

Republican Senator John McCain warned US President Barack Obama had given Syria President Bashar al-Assad a "green light'' to commit atrocities by failing to use military force to respond to previous attacks.

"When the president of the United States says that if he uses these weapons that it would be a, quote, 'red line and a game-changer,' (Assad) now sees that as a green light,'' he told CNN. "The word of the president of the United States can no longer be taken seriously, as it isn't throughout the entire region.''

The White House said it was appalled by reports of the attack outside Damascus, and renewed calls for Syria to allow a UN probe. 

Syrian rebels claim this  is one of the missiles carrying chemicals that targeted eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus.

Mr McCain has been a frequent critic of Mr Obama's reluctance to commit US military forces to protect civilians in Syria, and bemoaned the horror of the latest attack.

He said that in "couple of days'' US air power could take out Syrian air force runways. 

"We can supply the right kind of weapons to rebels, establish a no-fly zone by moving Patriot missiles up to the border. This can be done very easily.''

Australian response: Will we go to war over this?

In Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he will be speaking to the UN Secretary General about the crisis today.

"The UN's position now is investigators are in the country. We are now as an international community calling upon the Syrian Government to give them full access to this most recent horrific incident in order to establish the facts," he said.

Mr Rudd gave no indication of how he would respond if it is a confirmed chemical massacre, saying he plans to take a calm and measured approach to the situation.

Comment: How can we ignore these pictures?

Australian Zaky Mallah, who has travelled to Syria and lived with Free Syrian Army rebels engaged in the bloody civil war against President el Assad, told news.com.au the Syrian leader had used chemical weapons before.

"Assad is in desperate need to wipe out the rebels close to his compound," Mr Mallah said.

"He has used chemical weapons before and no action was taken.

In March, at least 30 were killed when a rocket allegdly containing chemical weapons hit the village of the village of Khan al-Assal in northern Syria.

"The world cannot just sit back and let him nuke innocent people," Mr Mallah said.

Zaky Mallah was the first Australian charged under anti-terrorist laws, for making a jihad-style video. He was acquitted of the charges.

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube by the Arbeen unified press office allegedly shows dead sheep laying on the ground in eastern Ghouta.

In one video of the alleged massacre posted on YouTube, children are seen receiving first aid in a field hospital, notably oxygen to help them breathe. Doctors appear to be trying to resuscitate unconscious children.

Another video showed what activists said was a case of hysteria following a chemical strike in the eastern suburbs. The authenticity of the videos has not immediately been verified.

A young girl held her head in her hands and frantically repeated "I'm alive'', as a man in a white coat tried to comfort her.

A pharmacist who treated victims said: "Their mouths were foaming, their pupils were constricted, and those who were brought in while still alive could not draw their breaths and died subsequently."

A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows Syrians carrying the body of a child into a mass grave following what Syrian rebels claim to be a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces.

Survivors, some twitching uncontrollably, lay on gurneys with oxygen masks covering their faces.

The Wall Street Journal cited an unnamed official as saying there were "strong indications'' that Syrian government forces had carried out a chemical weapons attack.

Damascus has vehemently denied it unleashed chemical weapons on rebel-held area outside Damascus.

If confirmed, the attack would be the largest scale use of chemical weapons since Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces attacked the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988.

A Syrian girl in shock screams in Arabic "I am alive" following an attack in which Syrian opposition claim the regime used chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus. The image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube by the Arbeen unified press office on August 21, 2013. It has not been independently verified.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Syrian forces on Thursday bombed and shelled a number of rebel zones where the Coalition alleged the attacks took place the previous day.

The head of the UN inspection mission, Aake Sellstroem, was in talks with Damascus "on all issues pertaining to the alleged use of chemical weapons, including this most recent reported incident," a UN statement said.

"But we do need to do our due diligence and get all the facts and determine what steps need to be taken."

Human rights groups backed calls for access for the UN inspectors to the sites of the alleged attacks.

There are claims thousands of people have been killed in a Syrian army chemical weapon bombardment.

Should the allegations be true, "the attacks would amount to war crimes," said Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

The UN inspectors arrived in Damascus on Sunday with a strict mandate to investigate three sites for the alleged use of chemical weapons.

A high-ranking Syrian security source described the idea that the army would use chemical weapons while UN weapons inspectors were working inside the country as "political suicide".

The UN Security Council in New York yesterday demanded "clarity" on what had occurred in Syria. 

A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows smoke above buildings following what Syrian rebels claim to be a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta.

The 15-nation body expressed "strong concern'' about the allegations and agreed that any chemical weapons use is "a violation of international law''.

The allegations of gassing civilians dwarfed all previous such accounts in the increasingly bloody civil war.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that 647 Syrians were killed in the attacks, and it attributed nearly 590 of those deaths to chemical weapons.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, considered the most authoritative group tracking casualties in the conflict, estimated at least 136 dead from an air assault but didn't address whether chemical weapons appeared to be involved.

A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows a woman mourning over a body wrapped in shrouds laid out in a line on the ground with other victims which Syrian rebels claim were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces.

The Local Coordination Committees activist group said hundreds of people were killed or wounded. The Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group in exile, put the number at 1300, basing its claim on accounts and photographs by activists on the ground.

Syria is said to have one of the world's largest stockpiles of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin.

Jean Pascal Zanders, an independent researcher who specialises in chemical and biological weapons and disarmament, said that in videos of the aftermath of the attacks, the hue of the victims' faces appeared to show many suffered from asphyxiation.

However, he said the symptoms they exhibited were not consistent with mustard gas or the nerve agents VX or sarin.

This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents, shows a Syrian girl receiving treatment at a makeshift hospital in Arbeen town, Damascus after an alleegd toxic gas attack. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

In this citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen, a man and woman mourn over the dead bodies of Syrian men after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces that killed 1300 people, including many children. Picture: AP

A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows people inspecting bodies of children and adults laying on the ground as Syrian rebels claim they were killed in a toxic gas attack.

Citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC which has been authenticated shows a Syrian boy holding an Arabic placard that reads: "if Syria's children bled petrol, the entire world would have intervened," during a demonstration against the alleged chemical weapons attack at the suburbs of Damascus. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)

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