Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack By: Cam Cross
On April 4, 2017, activists and witnesses say warplanes attacked the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun early on Tuesday with chemical weapons, killing more than 80 people. The opposition and Western powers claim this was a Syrian government air strike, but the Syrian military denied using any chemical weapons however. Opposition activists said government warplanes dropped bombs containing chemicals. Mohammed Rasoul, the head of a charity ambulance service in Idlib, said he heard about the attack at about 6:45 a.m. and his medics arrived 20 minutes later, but it was too late. They found people, many of them children, choking in the street. On April 19, The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it had undisputed test results that showed sarin or a sarin-like substance was used in the attack. Sarin is a nerve agent deactivates signals that cause human nerve cells to fire. The blockage of these nerves pushes them into a continual "on" state, causing the heart and other muscles to spasm. Long exposure to sarin can lead to death via asphyxiation within minutes.
The United States launched a military strike Thursday, April 6, on a Syrian government airbase in response to the chemical weapons attack that killed many earlier in the week. On President Donald Trump's orders, U.S. warships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the airbase that was home to the warplanes that carried out the chemical attacks on April 4, 2017. 58 of the 59 missiles hit their assigned targets. This strike is the first direct military action taken by the United States against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's six-year civil war, showing an escalation of the U.S. military in the region. Six people were killed in the airstrike, according to a televised statement by the Syrian's Armed Forces General Command. Russia deemed the strike as an "act of aggression," and Assad's office called it "a disgraceful act" that "can only be described as short-sighted." Trump's decision to strike shows a shift in his position on whether the United States should take military action against the Syrian President's regime. Trump opposed striking Syria during his campaign for president. However, the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said that the strike did not represent a "change in our policy or our posture in Syria," even though it marked the first time the US had decided to take military action against the Syrian government. "There has been no change in that status," he added. "It does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line ... and cross the line in the most heinous of ways." Trump issued a strike because the chemical weapons attack "crossed a lot of lines" and he felt responsible to respond.
Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said a chemical weapons attack in Syria that provoked U.S. missile strikes may have been staged. Publications including some from the U.S. and the U.K. have highlighted “many inconsistencies” in the version of events in Syria’s Idlib province that was used to justify the American airstrikes. Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on Wednesday that demanded the Syrian government cooperate with an inquiry into the suspected sarin-gas attack that killed many people. Russia claims the chemicals belonged to terrorists and Lavrov called on the United States not to repeat the airstrikes, which he said were part of unsuccessful efforts to oust Assad. The United States hasn’t shown evidence that Assad was responsible for the attack on April 4, 2017. However, the United States “is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people,” according to a four-page document published by officials in Washington on Tuesday that contained evidence and details gathered from victims of the attack.