On April 7th, the rebel held town of Douma in the suburbs of Damascus allegedly found itself under poison gas attack by the Syrian military. The attack reportedly killed at least 70 people, including women and children.
Though the death toll has not been independently verified, reports and pictures from the Syrian White Helmets showing bodies in basements have been shared across traditional and social media.
Both Syria and Russia, an ally in its current civil war, have claimed reports of the chemical attack are false. Russia has also stated that any U.S. attack against Syria in response to the current crisis could trigger a direct conflict between the U.S. and Russia.
At present, the U.S. and its allies are considering military action over the suspected poison gas attack in Syria. Here are what some of the main international players in the debate have had to say.
UN SECURITY COUNCIL
CGTN’s Liling Tan reports the majority of UN Security Council members, mostly western nations, blame the Syrian government and Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
They expressed outrage and said they want the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to have unhindered access to investigate the incident, while seeking the re-establishment of a mechanism to investigate reports of chemical weapon attacks, as well as to determine perpetrators and hold them accountable.
A similar investigative process known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) was in place until last year, when Russia vetoed the renewal of that mandate against the objections of other Security Council members.
The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said the Security Council has failed to act on Syria because “Russia has stood in its (the Council’s) way every single time.”
“History will record that, on this day, Russia chose protecting a monster over the lives of the Syrian people,” Haley also said, referring to Assad.
A majority of Council members, mostly western nations, blame the Syrian government and Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian government maintains it was not responsible for the alleged chemical attack, going so far as to suggest media evidence has been fabricated.
On April 11th, the Syrian Foreign Ministry released a statement calling the U.S. threats to attack “reckless” saying they show a lack of “wisdom and logic” and endanger international peace and security.
The day before, during a session of the UN Security Council on Syria, Syrian ambassador, Dr. Bashar al-Jaafari said, “The U.S. representative [Nikki Haley] said that there is a single monster today which stands in the face of the whole world… I say that this monster is the U.S., Britain, and France who sponsored terrorism in Syria and before it in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.”
On Tuesday, the Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry also sent a formal invitation to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to send a team from the fact-finding mission to visit Douma and to investigate the alleged chemical attack.
Little more than a year before the current crisis, the U.S. bombed Syria’s Shayrat airfield in response to a reported poison gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which killed dozens of civilians.
As international support builds for a military response to Syria’s alleged chemical attack, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday:
“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
Despite the Trump’s implication an attack on Syria was imminent, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Wednesday that ““We are still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies. We’re still working on this,” referring to France and the United Kingdom.”
According to the White House, Trump cancelled his first official trip to Latin America in order to oversee the current crisis in Syria.
In direct response to Trump’s tweet, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated “We are not participating in ‘Twitter-diplomacy. We are supporting serious approaches.”
Peskov continued, “We remain certain that the claims chemical weapons have been allegedly used in (Syria’s) Douma are far-fetched and cannot excuse any use of force.”
Earlier, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry responded to Trump on Facebook, saying missiles would destroy “all evidence” of the attack. Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova posted that “missiles must fly towards terrorists, not a legitimate government that has been fighting international terrorism in its territory for several years.”
The day after the alleged chemical attack in Douma, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Donald Trump by phone. According to a White House readout of the call:
“Both leaders strongly condemned the horrific chemical weapons attacks in Syria and agreed that the Assad regime must be held accountable for its continued human rights abuses. They agreed to exchange information on the nature of the attacks and coordinate a strong, joint response.”
In a summer 2017 interview with The Guardian, French President Emmanuel Macron stated:
“I have red lines on chemical weapons and humanitarian corridors. I said it very clearly to Vladimir Putin. I will be uncompromising on that. So the use of chemical weapons will be met with a response, and even if France acts alone.” He added: “France will be perfectly aligned with the U.S. in that respect.”
China has been urging a peaceful settlement of disputes over Syria and reiterated its opposition to military strikes following the suspected chemical weapon attack.
“The Syria issue is at a critical crossroad, and a political settlement is the only right way forward,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing on Tuesday. “There is no right use for military means.”
“China is opposed to the use of chemical weapons under whatever circumstances and for whatever purposes by any country, organization or individual,” Geng told reporters, calling for a “comprehensive, objective and impartial investigation” into the incident.
According to Reuters, the top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader said on state TV that Iran ““will stand by Syria’s government against any foreign aggression … Iran backs Syria in its fight against America and the Zionist Regime (Israel),” Ali Akbar Velayati told state TV during his visit to eastern Ghouta in Syria.”
In an interview with the BBC, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the use of chemical weapons is a “humanitarian catastrophe” that “cannot go unchallenged.”
May also said “all the indications” pointed towards the Syrian government being behind a “shocking, barbaric act” in the town of Douma. The prime minister has not, however, publicly committed to joining Britain in any military action.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn said the British parliament should be given say before any military action takes place.
“What we don’t want is bombardment which leads to escalation and leads to a hot war between Russia and America over the skies of Syria,” Corbyn said.”
Reuters reports Saudi Arabia could take part in military action in Syria after the suspected chemical attack. “If our alliance with our partners requires it, we will be present,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Tuesday at a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, wrapping up a three-day visit to Paris.