Syria Deeply Weekly Update: U.S. first strike against Assad, suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun and $6 billion pledged for Syria at Brussels donor conference

Syria Deeply
Apr. 10th, 2017
Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s coverage of the crisis in Syria.
U.S. Strikes Assad: The United States fired 59 cruise missiles on the Shayrat airfield in Homs province early on Friday. President Donald Trump said the Syrian government airbase had been used to launch a deadly chemical weapons attack on rebel-held Idlib earlier this week.
Despite the Pentagon’s claim that the U.S. warned Russia prior to the strike, the move damaged relations between Washington and Moscow, according to President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, who said the attack was “aggression against a sovereign nation” on a “made-up pretext.”
U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson said the strike should not be taken as a change in U.S. policy in Syria “or our posture relative to our military activities in Syria today.”
Khan Sheikhoun: A suspected chemical weapon attack in Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday killed at least 87 people. One doctor who treated victims of the alleged attack said that his critical patients exhibited signs of exposure to a nerve agent, particularly Sarin gas.
The alleged chemical attack in Idlib province sparked worldwide outrage and prompted the first direct U.S. military strike against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said that the international community must come to the conclusion that “war crimes are going on in Syria.”
On Friday, air raids reportedly hit Khan Sheikhoun again. There is no information on casualties yet, nor is it clear whether the planes were Russian or Syrian.
Syrian government warplanes hit Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel enclave in the Damascus suburbs, this week. At least 22 people were killed in airstrikes on various towns in the area – with the highest number of victims in Douma – on Monday and at least another 18 people, including five children, were killed in raids on the town of Saqba on Wednesday.
Donors Conference: International donors met in Brussels on Tuesday for a two-day conference aimed at supporting the future of Syria. The United Nations appealed to donors from the E.U. and Gulf countries to reach their pledge goal of $8 billion; however, the conference ended on Wednesday with a $6 billion pledge. Last year’s conference in London raised $11 billion.

Syrian Network for Human Rights: Following Khan Sheikhoun, the Syrian Regime Carries Out yet another Chemical Attack

No more than 72 hours have passed since the chemical attack that the Syrian regime warplanes carried out in Khan Sheikhoun city in Idlib governorate, and the Syrian regime is challenging the international community again, using chemical weapons in an attack on al Qaboun neighborhood in the capital Damascus.

SNHR recorded that on Friday, April 7, 2017, approximately at 16:00, Syrian regime forces used two hand grenades loaded with a poison gas on the eastern battlefront of al Qaboun neighborhood, which caused two armed opposition fighters to exhibit symptoms such as suffocation, breathing difficulties, and severe coughing.


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WAER: Syracuse Law Professor Endorses Legality of U.S. Missile Strikes Against Syria

Professor has more than 30 years of experience in the federal government and has been a professor at Syracuse Law since 2006.

The chemical attack in Syria is being called a crime on humanity by a Syracuse University International law expert, who says from a moral aspect Bashar al-Assad needs to be stopped. Thursday night, President Trump ordered a missile strike against Syria as a response to the chemical weapon attack.  Syracuse University Law Professor David Crane says from a legal perspective international law does allow the United States’ reprisal.

From a practical, political point of view, the U.S. needed to be seen as a player in this part of the world. It had not been a player for many, many years particularly when President Obama had essentially pulled us out of the situation by drawing that line in the sand and then doing nothing when gas was last used against the Syrian people.”

Crane is also the founder of an international organization that operates out of Syracuse University called the Syrian Accountability Project. He says they have been monitoring war crimes there since 2011. Over 55 law students have been involved in creating a trial packet for a future international prosecutor, an effort recognized by the United Nations.  Crane says they’re drafting indictments for all 13 warring parties, including an indictment against Assad.

 “We have an indictment against President Assad which we modify over time and adjust based on the crimes he’s been committing, and certainly the incident that took place this week will be one of the center points in his indictment.”

Crane says the United States action could break the ice and force Russia and Iran to take action. On the other hand, now that the U.S. has proven to be a player in the region; they might have Russia, Iran, or Assad looking over their shoulders.

”There’s going to be consequences now and even though the U.N. paradigm says that we only use force as a last resort, we try to settle our disputes peacefully; at the end of the day, sometimes the use of force is required to cause another nation state to stop killing their own citizens.”

United States representative John Katko released a statement calling the U.S strike ‘a proportional response’ and urges the administration to articulate its strategy moving forward:

“The horrific and barbaric chemical attacks by the Assad regime against innocent civilians, including children, warranted strong and measured action.  Targeted U.S. strikes on the air base from which these chemical attacks emanated were a proportional response to this horrible atrocity.  Given the complexity of the conflict in Syria, I urge the Administration to articulate its strategy moving forward.  As always, our Armed Forces acted bravely, professionally, and successfully, and I remain committed to ensuring they have the resources to be safe and successful.” 

Senator Schumer released a similar statement regarding the U.S. response to the Assad regime:

“Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.‎

It is incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult with Congress before implementing it. I salute the professionalism and skill of our Armed Forces who took action today.”

Senator Gillibrand’s statement on the issue closely follows Senator Schumer’s, vilifying the crimes of the Assad regime while clearly signaling to the Trump Administration that she strongly disapproves of these actions happening without Congressional Authorization:

The chemical attacks by the Assad regime in Syria are unconscionable atrocities and a direct violation of international law; these attacks demand a firm response from the U.S. and the world community.

However, unilateral military action by the U.S. in a Middle East conflict causes grave concern, given the lack of any Authorization for Use of Military Force from Congress and the absence of any long-term plan or strategy to address any consequences from such unilateral action.

Furthermore, there is no ‘military only’ solution to the suffering in Syria. The American people need answers from the administration about their plan here and how they will bring coalition partners to the table for a long-term diplomatic solution .


Syria: Chemicals sicken hundreds. Dozens are dead.
Syria Update: Chemicals Kill Dozens
Dear David,

I’m sure you’ve heard the news. Dozens of children, women, and men were killed this week from exposure to toxic chemicals in Khan Sheikhoun, a town controlled by armed groups fighting Syrian government forces in northern Syria.

Since then we have been reaching out to speak with victims, their relatives, first responders, and medical personnel to find out exactly what happened. The human toll is devastating.

This morning we reached a young mother who told us that she was sleeping on the first floor of their house with her family when they suddenly heard a loud explosion and the windows blew open. She told us:

“It felt like the air had weight. It got harder to breathe and tears were running down our faces and our eyes were burning. My son, who is one year and ten months, was running around. I couldn’t see because of the tears. He was screaming ‘Mom! Dad!’”
She and her husband and their son survived, but she shared with us the names of 19 of their family members and relatives who died.

Our contacts on the ground are saying that Syrian government planes dropped the chemicals. There are still many unanswered questions. But we won’t stop until we get to the truth.

After six years of conflict — with hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced — chemical attacks have become a regular occurrence in Syria, despite being prohibited by international law. Our researchers have exposed to the world that Syrian government forces have carried out chemical attacks on numerous occasions, as has the Islamic State.

If this is indeed a large-scale chemical attack, it would be one of the deadliest in the Syrian conflict.

Human Rights Watch is calling on the United Nations Security Council—including Russia and China—to condemn this latest attack, demand that Syria fully cooperate with investigators, and support steps to hold those responsible for these atrocities to account.

As this urgent crisis continues to unfold, we will keep you informed and alert you on ways to take action.

Thank you for standing with us.

Ole Solvang
Deputy Director, Emergencies Division
Human Rights Watch