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Chemical Warfare and Rhetoric: Chemical weapons were once again in headlines about Syria this week, however, thankfully, not because there was another chemical attack on the ground.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer issued a brief two-paragraph statement on Monday claiming the U.S. had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”
The “activities” observed were “similar to preparations the regime made” before the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, according to Spicer, who added that Assad and the Syrian military would “pay a heavy price” if a chemical weapon attack occurred.
The U.S. launched a missile strike on Syria’s Shayrat airfield in April, in retaliation for the Khan Sheikhoun attack. When asked why the U.S. administration believed Spicer’s statement would deter further chemical attacks, when U.S. military action didn’t, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said: “I don’t know that it didn’t based on what we know at this point.”
No further information was given until the following day, when Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the U.S. had observed “activity” at Shayrat airfield that involved a “specific aircraft in a specific hangar, both of which we know to be associated with chemical weapons use.”
The Syrian foreign ministry said the U.S. allegations were ‘‘misleading’’ and ‘‘completely baseless.’’ However, by Wednesday, U.S. defense secretary Jim Mattis said, “It appears that [the regime] took the warning seriously. They didn’t do it.”
On Thursday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), confirmed that sarin gas was used in the April 4 attack, but did not identify the perpetrator.
Israel Strikes Syria: Israel attacked Syrian government positions in southern Syria four times in less than a week in response to mortar fire landing in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Israeli strikes on Saturday and Sunday hit Syrian military positions, ammunition trucks and artillery positions in Quneitra. The Syrian government claimed Israeli strikes hit a residential building and killed civilians.
On Wednesday, Israel said it hit a Syrian army position in the village of Samadanieh al-Sharqiyah, allegedly used to launch a mortar that landed in the Golan. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was visiting a town located about 12.5 miles (20km) from where the mortar fell on Wednesday, said: “Whoever attacks us, we attack them. This is our policy and we will continue to implement it.”
This policy was evident on Friday, when Israel again targeted Syrian army positions in response to additional errant mortar fire in the Golan.
Battling ISIS in Deir Ezzor: Several airstrikes hit the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, where both the U.S.-led coalition, Russia and Syria are known to carry out attacks against the so-called Islamic State.
Ground clashes between between ISIS and pro-government fighters also escalated at the southern entrance of Deir Ezzor city, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The coalition targeted an ISIS prison in al-Mayadeen on Monday, killing at least 57 people.
On Wednesday, at least 30 civilians were killed in airstrikes on an ISIS-held village of al-Dablan, roughly 13 miles (20km) southeast of al-Mayadeen.
Shelling in the area on Thursday killed at least eight civilians, including one child, according to SOHR.