Wednesday, 5 April 2017

More accusations of chemical attacks

U.S.-Led Coalition Already Using Idlib Chemical Attack As Pretext For War In Syria
A deadly chemical attack was carried out in northwestern Syria’s Idlib Province early Tuesday, killing at least 58 people. The United States and its allies have been quick to blame Syria’s government for orchestrating the attack, despite a significant lack of proof.

By Whitney Webb

4 April, 2017, 2017

After an unsuccessful attempt to blame the Syrian government for a 2013 gas attack in Ghouta that was most likely carried out by al-Qaeda’s Al-Nusra Front, the U.S.-led coalition’s pretext for a military intervention in Syria to oust President Bashar al-Assad has largely crumbled as Russian diplomats were able to negotiate a deal with the United Nations on behalf of their Syrian allies.
Nearly four years later, history seems to be repeating itself, with Syria’s government being accused, once again by NATO allies, of carrying out yet another chemical weapons attack in al-Qaeda-held Idlib Province. The attack has left at least 58 dead.
But this time the stakes are higher, as the U.S.-led coalition has recently deployed thousands of troops in Syria that are set to remain long after Daesh and other terrorist groups are eradicated. To make matters worse, Vitaly Churkin, the Russian UN envoy who helped negotiate the 2013 agreement and prevent U.S.-led military intervention, lies dead under still -undisclosed circumstances. With coalition members already accusing the Syrian government of violating the 2013 agreement, it appears that the specter of foreign military intervention in the embattled nation may again be on the table, threatening the peace conference regarding Syria set to begin today in Brussels.

For the U.S. and its allies, the timing couldn’t be better to finalize their regime change operation in Syria – an operation that has been documented for over 25 years.

A familiar pattern

This frame grab from video provided on Tuesday April 4, 2017, by the Syrian anti-government group, the Edlib Media Center, shows  victims of a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria.  (Edlib Media Center, via AP)
This frame grab from video provided on Tuesday April 4, 2017, by the Syrian anti-government group, the Edlib Media Center, shows victims of a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. (Edlib Media Center, via AP)

News broke early Tuesday morning of yet another tragedy in the nearly six-year-long “civil war” in Syria, this time in the northwestern province of Idlib, where a chemical gas attack is estimated to have killed 58 people, including 11 children, according to multiple media reports. Two groups – the White Helmets and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – have blamed the Syrian government for the attack.
The Syrian Army has flatly denied the charges, stating that the army “has not and does not use [chemical weapons], not in the past and not in the future, because it does not have them in the first place” – a reference to the 2013 agreement whereby the Syrian government dismantled its chemical weapon stores as part of the accord that avoided U.S.-led military intervention.

However, mainstream media reports along with Western nations are already adopting the accusations against the Syrian government as fact. In a near-repeat of 2013, these nations seem unwilling to confirm such grave accusations before taking action, seemingly content to take the words of these two groups as sound despite significant evidence pointing to their disrepute.

Both of the groups who have blamed Assad’s forces for the attack have come under fire repeatedly for their ties to pro-intervention institutions, NATO-allied governments and even al-Qaeda – all of whom who have a stake in regime change.

The White Helmets, for instance, were founded by a former British army officer turned mercenary and frequently worked with Purpose, Inc. – a George Soros-funded PR firm that has been pushing for Western intervention in Syria for years. They also receive millions in funding from Western governments, including 23 million dollars from the U.S., and operate almost exclusively in areas held by al-Nusra Front, a Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, with whom they have collaborated with on a regular basis. They have been caught on camerafacilitating public executions of civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) is equally dubious, but for different reasons. Unlike the White Helmets, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights consists of just one man, an anti-Assad Syrian national by the name of Rami Abdul-Rahman who lives in the United Kingdom. Abdul-Rahman’s “sources” in Syria, from which he receives his information regarding the war, are anonymous and never recorded – thus making them completely unverifiable.

It was these same two groups who provided much of the “intelligence” that was used to blame the Syrian government for the 2013 attack in Ghouta. But once the media frenzy and manufactured outrage in the West had died down, it emerged that the Syrian army was not the likely culprit behind the attack and that it had instead been carried out by al-Qaeda-linked rebels in the area.

A year later in 2014, former UN weapons inspector Richard Lloyd and Professor Theodore Postol of MITpublished a report that found that the intelligence used to blame Assad’s forces for the attack was grossly inaccurate. A few months later, Pulitzer Prize award-winning journalist Seymour Hersch confirmed that the al-Nusra rebels in Ghouta had the means, motive and opportunity to carry out the attack themselves. On separate occasions, al-Nusra was confirmed to have used chemical weapons against civilians.

Just like Ghouta, Idlib is dominated by al-Nusra. Earlier this year, even the Washington Post admitted that Idlib’s “moderate” rebels had all but been replaced by al-Nusra and other terrorist factions in Syria. Aron Lund of the Century Foundation told the Post that “Idlib is now basically being abandoned to the jihadis. This might be the end of the opposition as understood by the opposition’s backers abroad. They won’t have any reason to support it.”

If Western governments and media outlets repeat the mistakes of 2013 by not verifying the claims made by the White Helmets or the one-man show at SOHR, they may very well end up offering these extremist groups support if they prematurely choose to retaliate against Assad before the dust can seъtle.

Will intervention be on the table?

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks to reporters after a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 at U.N. headquarters. (AP/Mary Altaffer)
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks to reporters after a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 at U.N. headquarters. (AP/Mary Altaffer)

However, the U.S.-led coalition and NATO nations seem less interested in the veracity of the information than in the opportunity these accusations – however baseless and dubious they may be – offer for their long-standing goals of regime change in Syria. Immediately after news of the attack broke, with only the White Helmets and SOHR testimony as sources, France – a U.S. coalition member – called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss how to respond to the “disgusting” attack, a meeting now set to take place Wednesday morning. Hours later, EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said that Assad bears “primary responsibility” for the attack. If more countries choose to lay the blame on Assad for the attack, the 2013 agreement could easily crumble – making Syria once again vulnerable to foreign military intervention.

The Associated Press reported that the U.S. envoy to the UN Nikki Haley condemned the attack as “terrible” but stopped short of blaming Assad directly. However, Haley said just yesterday that the Syrian people no longer wanted Assad as leader after telling ABC News on Sunday that “Assad is always a priority” and that the U.S. planned to bring him to justice. These comments stray far from the rhetoric recently used by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said last Thursday that the long-term status of “President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

Haley’s recent statements suggest that the Trump administration’s approach is quickly shifting and will likely shift even more due to these latest accusations targeting the Syrian government. While some in the Trump administration, such as Tillerson, have publicly called for a non-interventionist approach in Syria – something which Trump himself has long promised – recent U.S. military actions in Syria suggest that the real strategy is something else entirely.

As MintPress previously reported, Trump’s recent deployment of 2,500 troops to the Middle East – which are to be divided between Syria and Iraq – suggests that the U.S. is preparing for more than just a “final assault” against Daesh, especially considering that the Army even admitted that troops would stay in Syria long after Daesh’s defeat to “stabilize” the region for its “allies.”

In addition, recent moves by the administration to create “safe zones” in Syria would also require the U.S. to significantly increase its troop deployments in Syria – troops that would remain in the country indefinitely. Indeed, the Pentagon has suggested that future troop deployments in Syria will be significant, as it is no longer publicly announcing future deployments or troop movements. All of this despite the fact that Assad has stated that U.S. forces were not invited into the country and that they are essentially “invaders.”

Given that this latest gas attack is already being used politically in a similar fashion to the Ghouta attack of 2013, it seems likely that Assad will once again become a target of this quickly-growing standing army of foreign soldiers within its borders – one that has amassed under the cover of offering humanitarian assistance and “fighting terrorism.”

Reviving the ‘Chemical Weapons’ Lie: New US-UK Calls for Regime Change, Military Attack Against Syria

Patrick Henningsen

Here it comes again. As the enemies of peace continue to pressure a new US President into deeper war commitments overseas, and as Washington’s Deep State works relentlessly opposing Russian moves in Syria at every turn, the war drums have started again – beating harder than ever now, clamouring for a new US-led attack on Syria. This morning we saw the familiar theme emerge, and just in time to provide a convenient backdrop to this week’s Brussels’ ‘Peace Talks’ and conference on “Syria’s Future”.

The US-led ‘Coalition’ prepares to make its end-run into Syria to Retake Raqqa,’ and impose itsSafe Zones in order to partition Syria, more media demonization of the Syrian government appears to be needed by the West.

On cue, the multi-billion dollar US and UK media machines sprung into overdrive this morning over reports based primarily from their own ‘activist’ media outlets.  Aleppo Media Center and others embedded in the Al Nusra-dominated terrorist stronghold of Idlib, Syria, alongside their media counterpart the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) funded by the UK and EU, are all now claiming that the Syrian and Russian Airforces have launched a chemical weapons airstrike killing civilians in Idlib.

In their report today entitled, Syria conflict: ‘Chemical attack’ in Idlib kills 58”, the BBC is also alleging in their report that Sarin gas was used.

The alleged “chemical airstrikes” are said to have taken place in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, about 50km south of the city of Idlib.

Predictably, the BBC and other similar reports by CNN, have triggered a wave of ‘consensus condemnation’ and indignation by the usual voices, the UN’s Staffan de Mistura, Francois Hollande, and, of course, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who said that President Bashar al-Assad “would be guilty of a war crime” if it somehow be proven that his ‘regime’ was responsible.

Bombing your own civilians with chemical weapons is unquestionably a war crime and they must be held to account,” he said (reported by BBC). 

But is the mainstream media’s version of events what actually happened?

The BBC claims in their article that, “Opposition activists said Syrian government or Russian warplanes carried out the strikes.”  This claim should be checked against any Russian air sorties scheduled for the same period. As of this morning, Russia’s defence ministry has stated that it had not carried out any air strikes the area.

The problem here is that the BBC and others are not only taking ‘opposition activists’ reports of achemical attack at face value, they are also elevating claims that the Syrian and Russian airforces were then later hitting the medical clinics who were treating the survivors:

Later, aircraft fired rockets at local clinics treating survivors, medics and activists said.”

Expectedly, as with past claims of “chemical attacks,” the notorious US-UK funded ‘NGO’, the White Helmets have already played a central role in scripting the narrative for this latestchemical attack.

As with so many other previous reports on Syria, the BBC, CNN and AP’s reporting relies exclusively on “opposition activists” and “opposition media agencies,” including the ‘pro-opposition’ Step News agency’, the Edlib Media Center (EMC), and ‘opposition journalists’ like photographer Hussein Kayal, as well as an unnamed “AFP news agency journalist”.

The unnamed “AFP journalist” is particularly interesting, as it seems to be the source of a key portion of the BBC’s version of events:

An AFP news agency journalist saw a young girl, a woman and two elderly people dead at a hospital, all with foam still visible around their mouths.”

The journalist also reported that the same facility was hit by a rocket on Tuesday afternoon, bringing down rubble on top of doctors treating the injured.”

However, as you read further down the BBC report, the story gets less certain, as the story becomes very lose:

The source of the projectile was not clear, but the EMC and the opposition Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) network said warplanes had targeted several clinics.”

After their source the SOHR refused to say which “chemical” was supposedly dropped, the BBC quickly moved in to fill in the blanks by framing the story that the Syrian-Russian Airforces had launched a “Sarin Attack”.

The SOHR said it was unable to say what exactly was dropped. However, the EMC and LCC said it was believed to be the nerve agent Sarin, which is highly toxic and considered 20 times as deadly as cyanide.”

At no point in its reporting does the BBC ever express any skepticism that maybe their ‘activist’ sources could be providing false or misleading information. Ultimately, these reports can be used to trigger renewed calls by Western officials for military strikes against the ‘Syrian Regime’ – which was exactly what happened today after these news stories were circulated. Within a few hours after these reports circulated, Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R, Illinois) came on CNN with Wolf Blitzer who asked Kinzinger point blank: What can be done to remove this regime? Kinzinger then replied by calling outright for US airstrikes to “Take out the Assad Regime in Syria”, including “cratering their airstrips so no planes can take off” and creating a “No Fly Zone” over Syria.

These statements, as bombastic as they may sound, are serious and should not be taken casually. The problem is they are based on a series of lies. Of course, Kinzinger was followed on-air by John McCain protesting against US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent commentsthis week that, “The Syrian people should be able to choose their own (political) future” – effectively holding the overwhelming majority of Syrian in contempt for supporting their government.
CNN Senior Middle East correspondent Arwa Damon also chimed in with Blitzer from New York, and without any real evidence presented as to what has happened and who is to blame, she swiftly concluded that the Idlib “chemical attack” was the work of ‘the regime’ and that America cannot stand back idly and do nothing, and how this would show a “lack of humanity,” 

The BBC does briefly mention an alternative report, but carefully tried to discredit it in the court of political opinion by labelling it as from “Pro-Government journalists,” stated here:

Pro-government journalists later cited military sources as saying there had been an explosion at an al-Qaeda chemical weapons factory in Khan Sheikhoun that was caused either by an air strike or an accident.”

As expected, the UN affiliated chemical weapons watchdog, the OPCW, quickly announced they were “seriously concerned” about the alleged chemical attack, and that they were now “gathering and analysing information from all available sources”. One hopes that this will entail more than just looking at ‘activist’ or White Helmets material being circulated on the US and western media.

Incredibly, Kinzinger also said on national TV with CNN that people should ignore any stories which DO NOT implicate the Syrian government waged chemical attacks against its own people in East Ghouta in 2013 – and that these should be dismissed as “fake news” put out by ‘the Russians and the FSB.’ By this statement, Kinzinger is essentially saying that award-winning American journalists Seymour Hersh and Robert Parry are akin to being  Russian agents. In fact, Kinzinger is wrong and lying in his capacity as a high-ranking House Committee member.
In 2013, the US and UK went on an all-out propaganda blitz to try and implicate the Syrian Government in advance of war votes in both Washington and London. The campaign failed. 

The following are links to a small sample of factual reports publicly available which clearly show that the alleged “Sarin Attack” in 2013 was in fact the work of western and Gulf-backed ‘opposition rebels’ (terrorists) and not the Assad government, and all of these reports have been more or less ignored by CNN, BBC and the entirety of the western mainstream media – because they do not fit into the western ‘regime change’ and US-led military intervention narrative:

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