Last week, the British and French governments sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, saying that they believed there was credible evidence that Syria had used chemical weapons since December in or near the cities of Homs, Aleppo and Damascus.
But despite those assessments, skeptics abound. Rami Abdurrahman, who runs the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks casualties on both sides of the conflict, said that there was still no evidence confirming chemical weapons use. He noted that in the March attack in Aleppo, his group had recorded 26 dead, including Syrian government soldiers.
Other analysts note that rebel claims of chemical weapons have stemmed from the government’s use of incendiary cluster bombs, some of which contain phosphorous and create flames that are difficult to extinguish and smoke that can be particularly harmful when inhaled.
A Syrian doctor in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma said he treated victims of what some people said was a chemical attack March 24 in the nearby suburb of Adra – one of the locations Brun cited for a March 19 attack. The symptoms he described – contracted pupils and runny eyes – are consistent with sarin exposure, but he said witnesses offered conflicting reports about the chemical itself, with some of the people he treated claiming it had a foul odor, while others claimed it had no odor. Sarin is odorless.
Israeli officials said that they had passed along their intelligence findings to the United States, Great Britain and “other allies” more then two weeks ago.
“Everyone who is watching Syria closely knows what has happened there,” said an Israeli intelligence officer based along the country’s northern border with Syria who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
“We have also made sure to share our findings in real time so that in future no one can tell us, ‘We didn’t know, we didn’t see,’ and use that excuse.”
Brun was harsh in his criticism of the international community, which he accused of failing to act.
“The response of the world on this issue reflects the same trend of limited influence and a predisposition not to intervene,” he told the conference. “The developments are certainly worrying ones: First, the fact that chemical weapons have been used without any . . . (international) response is a very worrying development and could certainly signal that such a thing is legitimate.”
Israeli officials said there was concern that the U.S. was sending “mixed messages” and that its failure to take action in Syria would also mean it would be hesitant to take action against Iran.
“What does it say if the U.S. allows its red lines to be crossed in Syria? We think it sends a message that the U.S. is weak and won’t act on other red lines it sets,” said the Israeli intelligence officer in the country’s north.
“Syria is testing the U.S. by using chemical weapons in little amounts, in limited areas. When the U.S. doesn’t act, it sends a message that they won’t really act on their red lines,” the officer said. “Now who else has received American red lines? Iran. Israeli logic is that Iran is watching Syria closely to see how much appetite for intervention the U.S. really has.”