What the hell is going on in Syria?

Here’s everything you need to know about why Syria is in the news again but were too afraid to ask.

I heard there was a chemical weapons attack, what happened?
That’s right, there was. On the 7th of April, in Douma (a neighborhood of an area called eastern Ghouta in the outskirts of Damascus), there were a series of attacks, including one alleged chemical weapons attack with a lot of casualties. There is some discrepancy between the numbers, but it seems like just over 40 people were killed, and initial reports seem to suggest they were killed by a chlorine attack.

What’s been going in Douma?
Douma is part of a bigger area in rural Damascus, known as eastern Ghouta. The area has been under armed opposition control since 2012 and has been besieged throughout that time. Since 2016, the government has been trying to bring these besieged areas back under its control. The campaign began in Darayya (another area in the Damascus suburbs) in August 2016, and since then many places have had the military siege they lived under tightened, and a military campaign wrought on them, in an effort to make them agree to evacuate those who do not want to “reconcile” with the government, and return the area to government control. This policy occurred in Aleppo, as well as the throughout eastern Ghouta, and has seen tens of thousands of people forced out of their homes.

Image: Qasioun News Agency, wikicommons.

But I heard Douma, and eastern Ghouta, was being evacuated and Assad had “won” in that area, why would he use chemical weapons, he’s not insane?
Douma had been under a ceasefire for a fortnight before the attack. The armed opposition group that controlled the area had been negotiating a deal with the Russians, and had agreed to send some fighters out, and to allow some to remain in the area if they agreed to work with the government and Russia. Evacuations from the area had begun before the attacks, but the deal broke down, and a huge military campaign was brought in an effort to force Jaish al-Islam to agree to leave the area. Within hours of the attack, Jaish al-Islam had agreed to the government’s deal, and the evacuation of thousands of people is occurring.

Is this because Trump said he wanted the US to leave Syria?
US troops in Syria are only located in a particular area of the country, and their current mandate is limited to countering ISIS not fighting against Assad.

Last time there was a chemical weapons attack, Trump bombed Syria, right?
Wrong. Assad and Russia have used chemical weapons pretty regularly throughout the conflict. They tend to stick to chemicals like chlorine because it isn’t counted as a nerve agent. It has also been used in situations with reasonably low casualty rates, so it doesn’t make the news. This time, the gas sunk down into a house and killed far more people than they probably expected to kill.

I thought the chemical weapons inspectors were in Syria, why don’t they just go and investigate?
The OPCW did have a mandate to investigate in Syria under resolution 2235 (passed in 2015) that mandated the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism. This mandate was extended in 2016, but Russia blocked its extension in November 2017 after the mechanism found them responsible for a chemical attack in Idlib province in 2017.

Why does everyone care so much about chemical weapons, it seems like people are dying in Syria all the time?
President Obama made a flippant statement to reporters in 2012, stating that chemical weapons use in Syria was a “red line” for the US. In 2013, a huge chemical weapons attack in eastern Ghouta occurred, and the discussion about whether or not to intervene became a huge diplomatic incident. Since then, chemical weapons attacks have occurred regularly, but Trump’s air strikes in response to last year’s chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun raised the expectation that there would be action taken in response to use of chemical weapons.

Image: Qasioun News Agency, wikicommons

There were airstrikes last night? Who did that, was it America?
Both the US and France have denied they were behind the strikes. Israel has not confirmed it, but they are almost certainly behind the strikes.

WOAH, Israel bombed Syria? Is this world war 3?
No. Don’t worry. Israel bombing a target in Syria isn’t new news. They have bombed targets in the country with some regularity for a while, and have even hit the same air base before.

Is America going to bomb Syria now too?
It’s looking increasingly likely. If so, it will likely be a number of targeted strikes.

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