World condemns Assad regime’s chemical attacks on Douma, Moscow deny allegations

A child receiving oxygen through respirators following an alleged poison gas attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus, Syria. (AP)
Updated 08 April 2018

World condemns Assad regime’s chemical attacks on Douma, Moscow deny allegations

  • Trump called Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad an 'animal'
  • Turkey said there was a 'strong suspicion' the Syrian regime was responsible
LONDON: The US, UK, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pope Francis condemned Saturday's chemical gas attack on Syria’s Douma, while Russia and the Syrian regime denied claims of chemical weapons use.
Rescue workers said dozens of civilians had been killed in the attack and at least 80 civilians have been killed since Friday after the regime launched fresh air raids on rebel-held areas of Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.
The head of the United Nations said on Sunday he was “particularly alarmed” by the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined world leaders and global entities in voicing alarm and said in a statement that he was “deeply concerned” about renewed violence in the city of Douma, citing reports that sustained airstrikes and shelling had killed civilians, destroyed infrastructure and damaged health facilities.
“The secretary-general is particularly alarmed by allegations that chemical weapons have been used against civilian populations in Douma,” the statement said.
While noting that the United Nations was not in a position to verify such reports, Guterres said that any confirmed use of chemical weapons would be “abhorrent.”
He called on all parties to cease fighting and to provide “humanitarian access across Syria to all people in need.”
United States
US President Donald Trump said there will be a “big price to pay” after what he called a “mindless CHEMICAL attack” in Syria, allegedly involving chlorine gas.
Trump also called Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad an “animal.”
“President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay,” Trump said in a pair of tweets which began with a discussion of the attack in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, where rescue workers alleged that regime loyalists had used chlorine gas.
“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world,” the president said.
“Open area immediately for medical help and verification,” Trump said. “Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!"
Trump also criticized his predecessor Barack Obama for not striking after warning that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a “red line.”
“If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line in The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!” Trump said.
Meanwhile, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement, “these reports, if confirmed, are horrifying and demand an immediate response by the international community.”
“The Assad regime and its backers must be held accountable and any further attacks prevented immediately,” she added, noting that “Russia, with its unwavering support for the regime, ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks.”
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom called on the need to open an urgent international investigation into the chemical attack reports.
In a press statement issued by the UK Foreign Ministry, a spokesperson said that the Assad regime and his supporters must end the violence against innocent civilians.
“The reports that showed a large number of victims in the chemical attack in the city of Douma are disturbing and, if proved correct, will be further evidence of the brutality of the Assad regime and the disregard of its supporters of international laws,” the statement read.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said reports of the chemical attack were extremely worrying and called for the United Nations Security Council to meet quickly to examine the situation.
Le Drian said France strongly condemned attacks and bombings by Syrian government forces in the last 24 hours in Douma, adding they were a “gross violation of international humanitarian law.”
France would work with allies to verify reports that chemical weapons were used, Le Drian said.
Referring to President Emmanuel Macron’s warning that France could strike unilaterally if there was a deadly chemical attack, Le Drian said that Paris would assume all its responsibilities in the fight against the proliferation of chemical weapons.
European Union
The European Union said the evidence points to the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces against a besieged rebel-held town in Syria, calling for an international response.
"The evidence points towards yet another chemical attack by the regime," the EU said in a statement. "It is a matter of grave concern that chemical weapons continue to be used, especially on civilians. The European Union condemns in the strongest terms the use of chemical weapons and calls for an immediate response by the international community."
The bloc called on the UN Security Council to re-establish its checks to identify perpetrators of chemical attacks and on Russia and Iran to use their influence with Assad to prevent further attacks.
Turkey strongly condemned what it said was a chemical weapons attack in Douma, saying there was a “strong suspicion” the Assad regime was responsible.
“We strongly condemn the attack and we have the strong suspicion it was carried out by the regime, whose record on the use of chemical weapons is known by the international community,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.
Turkey said that the incident showed that past UN Security Council resolutions on the use of chemical weapons in Syria were “once again” being ignored.
The foreign ministry called for an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and said it expected condemnation from the international community.
The foreign ministry statement did not explicitly refer to Russia and Iran, maintaining Turkey’s caution in not lashing out at its partners.
But it called on “the parties who have influence over the Syrian regime” to ensure that such attacks are halted and punished.
It noted that “in the past no measures have been taken against these attacks.”
Pope Francis
At the end of a Mass in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope said that, “there is no such thing as a good war and a bad war. Nothing, but nothing, can justify the use of such instruments of extermination on defenseless people and populations.”
He urged that “military and political leaders choose another path, that of negotiations, which is the only one that can bring about peace and not death and destruction.”
Moscow, Tehran, Damascus deny claims
Russia’s military is rejecting claims that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in an attack on the rebel-held town of Douma.
Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko was quoted by Russian news agencies on Sunday as saying Russia was prepared to “promptly send Russian specialists in radiation, chemical and biological protection to Douma after its liberation from fighters to gather data that will confirm the fabricated nature of these statements.”
Yevtushenko said “a number of Western countries” are trying to prevent the resumption of an operation to remove Army of Islam fighters from Douma and “to this end they are using the West’s pet theme of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces.”
Iran also condemned the allegations as a “conspiracy” against its ally Assad and a pretext for military action.
“Such allegations and accusations by the Americans and certain Western countries signal a new conspiracy against the Syrian government and people, and a pretext for military action,” Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Tehran warned any military intervention would “certainly complicate the situation” in Syria and the wider region.
“With the Syrian army having the upper hand on the ground against the armed terrorists, it would not be rational for it to use chemical weapons,” the statement said.
Syria’s foreign ministry denounced accusations the government had deployed chemical weapons as an “unconvincing broken record.”
“Allegations of chemical use have become an unconvincing broken record, except for some countries that trade with the blood of civilians and support terrorism in Syria,” state news agency SANA quoted a ministry source as saying.
“Every time the Syrian Arab Army advances in the fight against terrorism, allegations of chemical use are used as an excuse to prolong the life of terrorists in Douma,” it said.
Douma is the last rebel-held town in Eastern Ghouta, once the opposition’s main bastion near Damascus but now battered by a seven-week regime assault.
The offensive has recaptured 95 percent of Ghouta, and the government announced on Sunday that it had reached a deal for rebels to be evacuated from their last holdout in Douma.

Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

Updated 19 min 23 sec ago

Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

  • Divers find pottery and stone in shipwrecks dating back 2,300 years
  • Diiscoveries are from Alexander the Great’s siege of Tyre in 332 BC

Forty meters down, on the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Lebanon, the divers knew they were looking at history.

Among the shipwrecks they investigated this month at 11 sites south of the city of Tyre, they found pottery and stone that had been there for more than 2,300 years.

“The shape of the pottery confirms that it dates back to more than 332 BC,” said the Lebanese archaeologist Dr. Jafar Fadlallah.

Mohammed Al-Sargi, captain of the diving team that found the wrecks, is even more certain. “The pottery and stone found on these wooden ships indicate that they were part of the campaign of Alexander the Great, who in 332 BC attempted to capture the city of Tyre, which was then an island,” he said.

“According to the history books, Alexander built a causeway linking the mainland to the island. These vessels might have been used to transport the stone required for the construction of the road, but due to the heavy loads and storms, they might have sunk.”

UNESCO recognized the archaeological importance of Tyre in 1979, when it added the city to its list of World Heritage Sites. Lebanon’s Directorate of Antiquities, in cooperation with European organizations, has carried out extensive excavations since the 1940s to uncover its historical secrets. They have revealed that the ancient maritime city included residential neighborhoods, public baths, sports centers, and streets paved with mosaics. The discoveries date back to the Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine periods.

During the Phoenician era, Tyre played an important role as it dominated maritime trade. It contributed to the establishment of commercial settlements around the Mediterranean and the spread of religions in the ancient world. It also resisted occupation by the Persians and the Macedonians, choosing to remain neutral in the struggle between the two bitter enemies. However, Macedonian king Alexander the Great considered gaining control of the island and establishing a naval base there to be a key to victory in the war, and he set out in January 332 BC to conquer it at any cost.

The area in which the diving team discovered the wrecks is “an underwater desert with no valleys or seaweed, a few hundred meters from the coast of Tyre,” said Al-Sargi.

“We found 11 sites, some of them close to each other and others far apart. In each location, there were piles of stones and broken pots.

“We continued to explore the sites quietly to keep away fishermen and uninvited guests. We sought the help of archaeologists, who assured us that the discovery rewrites the history of the city, and specifically the campaign of Alexander the Great. So, we decided to put the discovery in the custody of the General Directorate of Antiquities for further exploration and interpretation.”

The most recent find, which Al-Sargi described as a “time capsule,” is only the latest important discovery made by the team in Lebanon.

“In 1997, the divers discovered the submerged city of Sidon,” Al-Sargi continued. “In 2001, we discovered the city of Yarmouta opposite the Zahrani area. In 1997, we discovered sulfuric water in the Sea of Tyre. We conducted studies on fresh-water wells in the sea off the city coast.

“We are not archaeologists and we cannot explain what we have seen. Our role is to inspect and report to the relevant Lebanese authorities and abide by the law.”

Fadlallah, an archaeologist with 40 years experience of working at Lebanon’s ancient sites, picks up the story to explain what he believes to be the significance of the discovery at Tyre.

“The sites are about 700 meters from where Tyre beach was when it was an island,” he said. “The piles of stones were 50 meters to 200 meters apart and the pots seemed to have been broken by a collision because there was not one left intact. This means that these stones and pots were on ships and there was a violent collision between them.”

He said that studies of the remains of the pots suggest that they are of Greek origin.

“There are various forms of them,” he said, “and it is clear that the ships that were carrying them were related to the ships of Alexander the Great during his campaign on Tyre, and they appear to have been hit by storms.”

There are, of course, always skeptics — among them Dr. Ali Badawi, director of archaeological sites in the south at Lebanon’s General Directorate of Antiquities. The pots alone did not constitute sufficient “evidence that the ships belonged to the campaign of Alexander the Great,” he said.

“What was published by the captain of the divers contains unclear details, and the subject should be based on scientific explanations. I think that the sea is wide and piracy was possible at the sites of the submerged ships.

“Exploration operations are taking place in the breakwater area, involving a French mission and Lebanese archaeologists. Before that, a Spanish expedition along with marine archaeologists participated in examining the remains of a ship dating back to the BC era.

“Ship exploration is very expensive, and the city of Tyre was subjected to numerous military siege campaigns and many ships sank. But this does not mean that we will not investigate this new discovery, according to the instructions of the minister of culture.”