Chemical Attacks in Syria

By Hannah MacDonald, Global Issues Division Head. Image can be found here

Background to the War

The country of Syria has been engaged in a civil war since 2011 when protesting groups began to rise up against President Assad and his regime. On March of 2011, Assad decided to open fire on masses of peaceful protesters. Four months later, the protesters decided to shoot back, and groups from the Syrian army deferred to join the Rebel forces against Assad, thus signifying the start of the civil war. In 2012, extremist groups such as jihadists whom Assad released from prison to tinge the rebellion, and other groups like al-Qaeda, and the Kurds began to insert themselves into the war. During this time, Iran partnered with Assad and sent officers in to fight on behalf of Assad. In response, the oil-rich Arab states on the Persian gulf sent money and weapons to the Rebel groups in hopes of countering Iran. By 2013, the Middle East was split between Sunni and Shia powers, with the Sunni muslims primarily supporting the Rebels, and the Shia muslims primarily supporting Assad.

2017 Chemical Attack

Chemical attacks in Syria are not new, as international communities have had to navigate the issues as recent as last year. On April 4th of 2017, 89 Syrians from a rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun died from a chemical attack, and 541 of them suffered serious injuries. The attack was thought to be brought about by the Syrian Government, although there was never one hundred percent proof that it was their government. President Assad argued that the incident was “fabricated,” however his ally Russia, who has been in support of Assad’s regime since 2015, exclaimed that it was indeed the Syrian air force that hit Khan Sheikhoun. A witness recalled that the explosion sent a yellow mushroom cloud into the air, and left many people foaming at the mouth and struggling to breath. Furthermore, the Washington Post speculated that the chemicals used could either have been Sulphur mustard, Sarin, or VX. Appalled by what had happened, people demanded action from the the United Nations Security Council. The council took time to decide who was responsible and teamed with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to find proof. Within days, the organization found enough evidence to blame President Assad and the Syrian government. With this information, the United States took action, and on April 7th, President Trump carried out a missile strike against Syria. He reported, “Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air base in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched…It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” Unfortunately, the attack did not end with that, but was almost re-created just a couple weeks ago.

2018 Chemical Attacks

All of this tension and violence has been building, leading to the most recent chemical attack in Syria. On April 7th of 2018, one year to the exact week of the 2017 attack, two more chemical attacks struck the people of Syria. A reported 40 civilians have died, and over 500 are being treated for exposure to the chemicals. The attacks happened at 4:30pm and 7:30pm, both hitting the rebel-held city of Douma. Activists from the Violations Documentation Center reported that the bombs were dropped by the Syrian Air Force, and once again the Syrian government “denied ever using chemical weapons” and accused rebels of “fabricating” the reports. However, this time Russia supported the claim that the Syrian government had no involvement, and stated that the reports from Douma were “bogus.” In addition, the anti government activists almost immediately leaped on this, circulating videos with graphic images of dead families and children suffocating. With all the controversy, the United States and its European allies are continuing to investigate who was truly responsible.

This new attack re-ignited US involvement in the Syrian Civil War. With the civil war drawing near to an end, Trump had announced just a few days earlier to the strike that the U.S. was going to pull its troops out of Syria. After being made aware of the chemical attack, Trump decided that the United States was firmly going back in. White House officials said, “the images of last weekend’s atrocities haunted Trump”, and the Washington Post stated that this “trigger(ed) six straight days of tense deliberations with his newly reorganized national security team — as well as coalition partners from France and the United Kingdom — over military options to retaliate against the alleged perpetrator he derided as “Animal Assad.”’ As a result, on Friday the 13th, the United States and its European allies sent missiles to Syrian military targets with their goal being to punish President Assad. President Trump noted shortly after the chemical attack, “These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead.” The retaliation resulted in 105 missiles hitting three of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons facilities, and Trump stated that, “The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.” Furthermore, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spoke out at the UN as she placed the American response in an “international context,” criticizing Syria and Russia during an emergency U.N. Security Council session, and harshly addressing Assad’s alleged actions by saying, “Only a monster targets civilians and then ensures that there are no ambulances to transfer the wounded.” In light of everything that has happened, the US is continuing to press for justice and will be on high alert to prevent future tragedies.

 

What About Us?

As middle and high school students, we are at an age when we need to be aware of what’s happening around us. It is our job as students to be educated, and this includes being educated about our world. Moreover, when atrocities like this happen, it is our role as Christians to actively be praying over the people and families who were affected. It is our role to pray over our leaders, and pray that wise decisions will be made and acted upon. Here are a list of small prayers that you can and should take a minute and pray about.

 

Father God,

  • I pray for the people of Syria who were affected by the chemical attack. I ask that you will bring comfort to those who have lost loved ones, and safety for those who may still be in danger. You, God, are the healer of all things. I ask that in your perfect timing, you will perform a mighty healing on the land of Syria and mend what has been broken.
  • I pray for the Syrian government and President Assad. Lord I ask that you will restore anything that is damaged in the government, and allow the government officials to have the best interest of the Syrian people at heart.
  • I pray for President Trump and the people of the United States. Please provide the president wisdom as he makes future decisions, and keep your hand over the United States government as it changes and grows. Keep the people of America safe from harm and heal our land.  

As a nation and as individuals we watch this international crisis unfold with prayer and a desire to see peace in the near future.