The regime may have finally gone too far for Russia’s protection.
Unidentified snipers have opened fire on a convoy of UN experts investigating suspected chemical weapons attacks in Syria’s capital, the UN has said.
One car was shot at “multiple times”, forcing the convoy to turn back.
Syrian state media blamed opposition “terrorists” for the attack, though the claim could not be verified.
The UN team later resumed its mission, entering the western district of Muadhamiya to gather evidence, before returning to central Damascus. […]
The convoy was “deliberately targeted” and it seemed someone was trying to intimidate the team, the UN Secretary General’s spokesman, Farhan Haq, told the BBC.
The Guardian also reports:
A spokesman for the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said the shooting occurred in the buffer zone area between rebel and government-controlled territory. […]
The attack on the inspectors came shortly after Ban said there could be “no impunity” for the use of chemical weapons, saying the international community owed it to the families of the victims to take action in Syria.
The regime gave the inspectors permission to go to the site and investigate, though it’s worth noting that it took a few days—with a gap so long, it’s hard to be as conclusive about what exactly happened up to the standards of this kind of investigation. (Not saying this means it won’t be possible to figure out the basics, or who was behind it, but a lot of the chemical evidence will very likely have faded.)
They gave permission, but then set up these snipers, because this way they van try to blame the unspecified “rebels” they already blamed for the attack itself. Many of us thought it was possible that in addition to/aside from a possible tactical explanation, the regime chose to make this attack when the investigators were in the city as a way of showing Syrians that the international community will not act, that they can get away with this. The same Guardian article makes it look like that may not be as true as we’d thought; the snipers may be a result of the regime realizing that it might have miscalculated, and so trying to scare the investigators off.
If the whole sequence—the attack with inspectors nearby, giving the inspectors permission, and then firing on them—was all part of the initial plan, then to be honest I don’t get it. But the Syrian regime has a long history of distorting reality, not just within itself but through much of Syria (see Ambiguities of Domination), so its doing things that don’t make tons of sense to the rest of us wouldn’t be exactly new.
More from the Guardian on the international response:
Speaking in Seoul, Ban said the UN inspection could not be delayed. “Every hour counts,” he said. “We cannot afford any more delays. We have all seen the horrifying images on our television screens and through social media. Clearly this was a major and terrible incident,” he said. “We owe it to the families of the victims to act.”
Britain and the US are inching towards a military attack against the regime of Bashar al-Assad after the UK foreign secretary, William Hague, said all other options have failed over the past year. […]
Ban faces mounting challenges maintaining the credibility and authority of the UN over the Syria conflict, as Russia appears determined to withhold support for any punitive measures against the Assad regime, while the UK and US have both signalled that they are prepared to act without a UN mandate in the face of a Russian and Chinese veto.
However, Ban was outspoken over the necessity to act if his inspectors find evidence of chemical weapons use. “If proven, any use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances is a serious violation of international law and an outrageous crime. We cannot allow impunity in what appears to be a grave crime against humanity,” Ban said. […]
The foreign secretary admitted that Britain effectively faced a stark choice – between inaction or a military strike – as UN weapons inspectors embarked on a visit to the area east of Damascus that was struck by a chemical weapons attack last week.
General Sir Nick Houghton, the chief of the defence staff, is to discuss military options with his US counterpart, General Martin Dempsey, and other allied military chiefs at a summit in the Jordanian capital Amman.
Russia and China are likely to veto any UN security council resolution authorising military action. But Hague said a military strike could still be legal under international law without the approval of the UN.
He told Today: “It is possible to take action based on great humanitarian need and humanitarian distress. It is possible to do that under many different scenarios. But anything we propose to do – the strong response we have talked about, whatever form that takes – will be subject to legal advice, must be in accordance international law.” […]
He said: “Of course we want the maximum pressure from world opinion, from diplomatic work, on the Syrian regime not to do these things again. It has to be pointed out that such pressure does not appear to have worked.”
Hague dismissed Assad’s claims that his regime was not responsible for the chemicals weapons attack. He said: “The Assad regime did this. The use of chemical weapons in the 21st century, on a large scale like this, cannot go unaddressed, cannot be ignored. Our position is the same as France and the US.”
Obama has been more cautious in his language (“But Mr Obama warned in his interview: ‘Sometimes what we’ve seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff, that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.’”); in that same link you can see Russia continuing to support the idea that it was rebels, the opposition National Coalition swearing to support, protect, and facilitate any further investigation (the regime and Russia have said they’d support it but that the investigators wouldn’t be safe from rebels) and indeed at least saying they’re trying to get tissue samples to the investigation team, and France saying that the international community should use force if the attack can be verified. Turkey’s foreign minister has also said Turkey would be willing to support intervention without a UN agreement.
The regime may finally have gone over a line. The whole situation could change radically if these countries follow through. Will intervention actually stop the conflict or even determine the outcome? I don’t think so. But if it keeps it to conventional weapons, I honestly (though a bit tentatively) think that might be enough of a reason.