US says 'large body' of evidence shows Assad regime behind Duma chemical attack
The US has "a large body" of evidence indicating that the Assad regime was responsibile for the April 7 chemical attack in Duma and that Syrian military officials coordinated the attack, the White House said today as it defended the joint air strikes on the war-torn country.
The White House released an information sheet making its case for the Syrian regime's involvement in the Duma attack shortly after President Donald Trump announced targeted strikes on Syria in collaboration with the UK and France to retaliate against it.
"A large body of information indicates that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in the Duma area of East Ghutah, near Damascus, on April 7, 2018. Our information is consistent and corroborated by multiple sources," the White House statement said.
"This conclusion is based on descriptions of the attack in multiple media sources, the reported symptoms experienced by victims, videos and images showing two assessed barrel bombs from the attack, and reliable information indicating coordination between Syrian military officials before the attack," the White House assessment said.
The White House said the Duma poison gas attack was part of a major offensive on the rebel-held area by the regime.
According to the White House, Bashar al-Assad's regime's continued use of chemical weapons threatens to desensitise the world to their use and proliferation, weaken prohibitions against their use, and increase the likelihood that additional states will acquire and use these weapons.
"To underscore this point, not only has Russia shielded the Assad regime from accountability for its chemical weapons use, but on March 4, 2018, Russia used a nerve agent in an attempted assassination in the United Kingdom, showing an uncommonly brazen disregard for the taboo against chemical weapons," the White House alleged.
"A significant body of information points to the regime using chlorine in its bombardment of Duma, while some additional information points to the regime also using the nerve agent sarin. This is not an isolated incident — the Syrian regime has a clear history of using chemical weapons even after pledging that it had given up its chemical weapons program," it said.
On April 7, social media users, non-governmental organisations, and other open-source outlets reported a chemical weapons bombardment in Duma.
Videos and images show remnants of at least two chlorine barrel bombs from the attacks with features consistent with chlorine barrel bombs from past attacks, it said.
In addition, a large volume of high-resolution, reliable photos and video from Duma clearly documents victims suffering from asphyxiation and foaming at the mouth, with no visible signs of external wounds.
The World Health Organisation issued a statement about its concern over suspected chemical attacks in Syria, noting that victims showed symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals, the White House said.
According to the Trump administration, multiple government helicopters were observed over Duma on April 7, with witnesses specifically reporting a Mi-8 helicopter, known to have taken off from the Syrian regime's nearby Dumayr airfield, circling over Duma during the attack.
Numerous eyewitnesses corroborate that barrel bombs were dropped from these helicopters, a tactic used to target civilians indiscriminately throughout the war.
Photos of barrel bombs dropped in Duma closely match those used previously by the regime.
"Following these barrel bomb attacks, doctors and aid organizations on the ground in Duma reported the strong smell of chlorine and described symptoms consistent with exposure to sarin," the US alleged.
The White House alleged that the Assad regime chooses to deploy chemical weapons to terrorise and subdue both opposition fighters and the civilian population.
"It seeks to minimize regime casualties, in part because its military lacks the strength needed to otherwise prevail. Because the regime's intent is to terrorize, it makes no effort to discriminate between military and civilian targets," it said.
In its statement, the White House alleged that the Syrian regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons to compensate for its lack of military manpower, to achieve battlefield goals, and to compel rebel surrender, especially when the regime believed critical infrastructure or territory in the core of the country to be at risk.
The regime has also demonstrated a willingness to use chemical weapons against entrenched opposition forces to maintain offensive momentum when as it calculates this behavior will not be detected and punished, it said.
"The Syrian regime's chemical weapons attacks on Duma were part of an effort to recapture the city in order to eliminate the final opposition pocket in East Ghutah capable of threatening the capital. The regime also seeks to punish Duma's civilian population, who have long resisted Assad's domination, as a deterrent to further rebellion," it said.
If not stopped, the White House said, Syria has the ability to produce and use more chemical weapons.
Damascus and Moscow have denied any involvement in the Douma attack.
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