Chemical attacks in Syria kill up to a hundred civilians, U.S. takes action against Assad
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Last Tuesday, the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun in the northern, rebel-held territory of Idlib Province was bombed with chemical weapons, sparking international outrage. Western leaders immediately placed the blame on the regime of Bashar al-Assad and called on the government’s allies, Russia and Iran, to take action to prevent a recurrence of these types of attacks, according to The New York Times.
The death toll has been slowly rising since the start of the attack Tuesday morning and has now reached as many as 100 victims, the worst chemical attack since the 2013 attack near Damascus that killed over 1,400 civilians. Video footage and photographs from the scene of the attack show dozens of people, many of them children, struggling to breathe, foaming at the mouth, and experiencing muscle spasms, indicating the use of some sort of nerve agent. The New York Times reports that doctors and rescue workers later identified the chemical as sarin gas.
The Assad regime has denied responsibility for the attack, as it was supposed to have dismantled its chemical weapons stockpile four years ago in an agreement with the U.S., and instead placed the blame on insurgents within the area. However, none of the rebel groups have the ability or resources to carry out the kind of aerial strike that hit Khan Sheikhoun.
Syria’s ally, Russia, offered another explanation saying that warplanes belonging to the Syrian military struck a rebel storehouse containing the toxic substances. Both of these scenarios seem unlikely, though, since Assad has denied responsibility every time chemical weapons have been used in Syria.
In light of this most recent atrocity, humanitarian groups are demanding a response from the United Nations Security Council, but partisan divides over who is to blame for the start of the war have prevented any significant progress since the conflict first started in 2011. Meanwhile in Washington, the images of the suffering victims after the attack have lead Trump to reassess his approach to Syria, which was originally to focus entirely on fighting the Islamic State.
In response, President Trump met with his National Security Council on Wednesday afternoon to discuss possible courses of action against Syria. By Thursday, American Intelligence had tracked the planes responsible for carrying out the chemical attack to Al Shayrat airfield and determined that they were indeed government warplanes.
By Thursday evening, 2:40 a.m. local time in Syria, two American destroyers, the U.S.S. Porter and the U.S.S. Ross, fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the airfield. In a hastily organized public statement that same night, Trump announced the strikes to reporters, saying that the military action was in the“vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” Thus far, the response to Trump’s military actions has been mixed and inconclusive.