LATEST: French Intel Report: Assad’s Forces Carried Out “Massive, Coordinated” CW Attack
*Regime Launches Extensive Airstrikes, Barrel Bombs In Key Towns In Idlib Province
*Convoys Of FSA Fighters Head To Latakia Province To Support Insurgent “Coastal Offensive”
*Syrian Deputy FM: A US Strike On Syria Would Support Al Qaeda
*Assad: “We Can Confront Any External Aggression
Reuters are citing a “French government source” as saying that Assad’s forces carried out a “massive and coordinated” chemical attack on August 21.
“This poses a major threat to national and global security…”Unlike previous attacks that used small amounts of chemicals and were aimed at terrorizing people, this attack was tactical and aimed at regaining territory,” the source told Reuters.
The source referred to a nine-page, declassified French intelligence report released on Monday and issued by external and military intelligence services.
The report lays out five points that suggest Assad was behind the attacks.
The intelligence includes satellite imagery showing the attacks coming from government-controlled areas to the east and west of Damascus and targeting rebel-held zones. The source said Assad’s forces had since bombed the areas to wipe out evidence.
Meanwhile, also on Monday, to counter increasing French calls for military action against Syria, Assad gave an interview to Le Figaro, in which he called the accusations that his forces were behind the August 21 attacks “illogical”.
Assad also warned of “negative” repercussions for French interests, should Paris participate in any military action.
Assad told the French newspaper:
Anyone who contributes to the financial and military strengthening of terrorists is an enemy of the Syrian people. Anyone who works against the interests of Syria and its citizens is an enemy. The French people are not our enemy, but the policies of their state are hostile to the Syrian people. Insofar as the policy of the French government is hostile to the Syrian people, the [French] state will be their enemy. This hostility will end when the French government changes its policy. There will be repercussions, negative of course, for the interests of France.
Assad also added:
Anyone who accuses must provide evidence. We have challenged the United States and France to put forth a single piece of evidence. Obama and Hollande were unable to do so, including to their peoples. (…) I am not saying that the Syrian army has such weapons or not. Suppose that our military wants to use weapons of mass destruction: is it possible to do so in an area where the army is present and where its soldiers were wounded by these weapons, as discovered by the UN inspectors who visited them at the hospital where they were treated? Where is the logic?
The National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, a coalition of non-armed opposition parties and figures, said Monday that the Assad regime was responsible for a chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital but opposed a Western military strike.
“The use of chemical weapons against civilians is a key turning point in the bloody conflict,” the NCCDC said in a statement, which it read out at a Damascus press conference, according to AFP.
The statement added:
“All of those who contributed to this horrendous crime should be punished. The regime holds primary responsibility…The crime was carried out in an area controlled by armed members of the opposition and during bombing of the area by government forces…Military aggression would be in the interests of extremist forces taking part in the bloody conflict and would not serve to bring about democratic change or to build a civil and democratic state.”
Established in June 2011 to unite the demands of the opposition, organize political dialog, and peaceful anti-regime protests, the NCC is chaired by Hassan Abdel Azim and consists of 13 left-wing political parties — including nationalist Arab and Kurdish parties — and independent political activists.
The BBC has published a full video of an interview their correspondent, Jeremy Bowen, conducted with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in Damascus.
The interview takes place in a government office, with a large picture of President Bashar al-Assad adorning one wall.
Mekdad denied that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, repeating its line — adopted by Iran and Russia — that “Western-backed armed groups” had done so.
Any attack against Syria would be support for Al Qaeda and its linked groups, whether that’s Jabhat Al Nusra or the Islamic State of Iraq and Ash-Sham.
Mekdad is also asked about the U.S. decision not to wait for the “paralyzed” UN Security Council over military action on Syria.
We hope that President Obama and his administration will exercise wisdom in its decisions and wait for the United Nations, which is the only authority after the Second World War to give permission for military action.
He adds that to go to war without a UN agreement would be the “destruction of the existing international system”.
Of course, this is not the first time the United States violates the existing international systems…. it has repeatedly ignored the existence of an international system. But I think this time the issues will be different because members of the Security Council should take it more seriously… if they will not then why, for God’s sake, do we have such a structure?
Mekdad accused the U.S. of a “double standard policy”, saying that Washington would not accept it if Russia decided to “go and attack X country” without approval from the UN Security Council.
As well as targeting mountain villages around Ariha in Idlib Province, regime forces on Monday are also launching airstrikes against other towns in the province. This footage shows panicked residents in Ma’arrat Misrin, north of Idlib city, following an airstrike that caused extensive damage to property. Casualty figures are unknown.
Regime forces are targeting mountain villages near Jabal Al Zawiya in Idlib Province, including with explosive barrel bombs. The attacks come after insurgent forces captured the strategically-important town of Ariha. By capturing Ariha, the insurgents will be better able to launch an offensive on two important regime strongholds known as the “Brick Factory” and the “Youth Camp” at the foot of the Jebel al-Zawiya range and close by a highway.
Footage posted Monday shows the extent of some of the regime attacks:
Smoke rising from multiple attack sites in a village in the area:
Strikes on residential targets in Ariha:
Videos: Beyond The Bombings – A Family In Babila, Damascus, Explain The Effects Of The Regime Blockade
While regime forces continue to pound the Damascus suburbs — including the sites of the August 21 chemical attacks — a series of videos posted on Monday show another aspect of the regime’s offensive on the area: the blockade.
The affects of regime’s blockade of the area were apparent during the August 21 attacks, when field hospitals reported shortages of medical supplies, with fresh stocks unable to get through for months before the chemical weapons strikes.
These videos, from Babila to the southeast of Damascus, show how an ordinary family is struggling to survive because of the blockade. The family’s father shows how he and his children are chopping up furniture to make firewood so that the family can cook a meal.
Chopping up furniture:
Burning furniture to cook a meal:
This video, posted on Sunday, claims to be the testimony of a former inmate of the Aleppo Central Prison, who says he witnessed mass graves at the detention facility. Aleppo Central Prison, controlled by the regime, has been under siege for months, with reports that regime forces have previously killed prisoners who participated in a prison mutiny.
This week, there are reports of large insurgent assaults on the prison, including by the Free Syrian Army and Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra. This footage from Sunday claims to show a car bomb assault on the prison by Jabhat al Nusra:
In this video, posted on August 27, an activist named Murad Abu Bilal explains that most media activists in Zamalka near Damascus died as they tried to cover the August 21 chemical weapons strike.
Abu Bilal says that most of the many activists, and journalists working in Zamalka died on August 21, the day of the chemical strikes, because they inhaled the poison gas.
That was not the end of the tragedy, however: Abu Bilal says that on August 22, the day after Assad’s forces launched the chemical weapons attacks, the media office in Zamalka was hit by regime airstrikes and artillery shelling, which caused panic in the press office.
Abu Bilal says that the media office does not yet know what happened to all the staff members: many went out to photograph and cover the chemical attacks.
Syria Deeply has comments from senior Free Syrian Army leaders, who say that to be effective, any U.S. strike against the Assad regime must hit hard against the regime’s military bases.
Prominent leader Abdel Jabbar Al-Okaidi, commander of Aleppo province, says: “If the strikes target the airports, Scud missile launchers, and command and control headquarters, then they will cripple the regime” but added that “a light strike would be worse than doing nothing. If it’s not the death blow, this game helps the regime even more. The Syrian people will only suffer more death and devastation when the regime retaliates.”
Supreme Military Council chief of staff Salim Idris also said that the U.S. must hit hard and not give Assad a “slap on the wrist”.
“There is no more room for excuses from the international community after this massacre”.
Footage posted on Sunday claims to show a convoy from the Ahrar Suriya Brigade in Aleppo heading to Latakia Province to assist in the insurgent offensive.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday criticized what he said was “absolutely unconvincing” US evidence that the Assad regime is responsible for the August 21 chemical attacks near Damascus, according to Interfax.
Lavrov told students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, “Yes, we were shown some calculations, which did not contain anything specific: no geographic coordinates, no names, no evidence that the samples were taken by professionals and which had absolutely no remarks on the fact that many experts have serious doubts about those videos that are “floating about” on the Internet.”
Lavrov added, “there are a lot of inconsistencies and absurdities, if we’re talking about images of the use of chemical weapons and images of the victims.”
The Russian Foreign Minister then conflated previous allegations of chemical attacks with the August 21 attacks — a line that Moscow took in the immediate aftermath of those attacks: “What we’ve been shown in the past, and recently by our American partners, and by the British and the French, we find absolutely not convincing…There are no facts, there is just chatter about what we know for sure. And when we ask for more detailed evidence, they say it’s all secret, so we can’t show you. So there is no evidence for the aims of international cooperation.”
Lavrov said that Moscow had conducted its own investigation into allegations of chemical attacks in Khan Al Assal, the results of which it had presented to the UN:
“We said that in the absence of any UN action, this is our contribution, please rate it from a professional perspective. From the Americans, we have not gotten any answers, and we also haven’t gotten anything from the French and the English, or from anyone else for that matter.”
The Assad regime is continuing its offensive to take insurgent-held areas of the Damascus suburbs, following the August 21 chemical weapons attacks.
Activists report that the regime is bombarding residential buildings inside Beit Saham [link to map], between Babila and Jaramana on the Damascus Airport Highway, with artillery shelling. Meanwhile, there are heavy clashes between FSA and regime forces on the Damascus Airport Highway outside the town. Footage from Monday shows damage to residential homes following artillery bombardment:
Farther out of Damascus, on Sunday Islamist faction Harakat Ahrar Ash-Sham claimed to have taken a regime-controlled barrier on Route 7, between Jayrud and An Nasriyah [see linked map]. There is a military airbase and a military storage facility just outside An Nasriyah.
Footage posted on Sunday [WARNING GRAPHIC] claims to show bodies of regime soldiers killed during the fight for the barrier.
Activists also report that the regime on Monday has resumed tank and artillery shelling on Muadamiyyat Ash-Sham in West Ghouta, the target of one of the August 21 chemical attacks.
FSA fighters — one with a sword — vow revenge against Assad’s forces after a regime airstrike hits Nawa, in Daraa Province. The insurgency overran Nawa several weeks ago. The regime has attempted — unsuccessfully — to retake the town by bombarding it with air and artillery strikes. The extent of destruction in Nawa is visible in the video.
Footage from Monday claims to show a convoy of fighters from the FSA’s Northern Storm Brigade — based in Aleppo Province — heading out to join fighters in Latakia Province. The insurgents began a campaign against regime-controlled areas of Latakia Province earlier this month, against which the regime has hit back with air and artillery bombardments.
In this video, the Brigade is seen loading up trucks with weapons — including homemade arms — as they set off for Latakia. The convoy carries not the FSA flag but the flag of the Northern Storm Brigade.
Footage posted on Sunday shows FSA Commander and the head of the FSA’s Military Council of Aleppo Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi giving a speech offering directions and guidelines to fighters heading to support the coastal offensive in Latakia Province.
As the US pulls back from immediate military intervention, Saudi Arabia — which has taken the lead in support of the Syrian insurgency — is calling for action.
On Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal addressed Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo, “Opposition to international action only encourages the regime to pursue its crimes. It is time to ask the international community to assume its responsibilities and to take deterrent measures.”
The head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Asi al-Jarba, also pleaded for the military measures, “I am here before you today to appeal to your brotherly and humanitarian sentiments and ask you to back the international operation against the destructive war machine” in Damascus.
In a meeting with visiting Iranian MPs, President Assad has declared, “Syria…is capable of confronting any external aggression.”
Assad added, according to State media, “The American threats of launching an attack against Syria will not discourage Syria away from its principles…or its fight against terrorism supported by some regional and Western countries, first and foremost the United States of America.”
The Local Coordination Committees claim 118 people were killed on Sunday, including 55 in Damascus and its suburbs and 29 in Idlib Province.
The Violations Documentation Center put the number of dead at 71,905 since the conflict began in March 2011, an increase of 92 from Sunday. Of the dead, 54,284 are civilians, a rise of 61 from yesterday.
Now that the US and Britain have lifted their threat of immediate airstrikes, we return to the position just after the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attacks on August 21.
As we opened Monday’s Syria coverage, we asked: will the Syrian military renew its drive to take all of the Damascus suburbs from insurgents?
The chemical attacks were only the opening, deadly phase of an offensive to clear the suburbs from Jobar to Muadimiyeh ash-Sham of opposition fighters, who had held territory for more than a year and were increasingly launching attacks into the capital.
That offensive had to be checked, in part to allow some United Nations inspections of chemical attack sites and in part because the regime was dispersing its forces to protect them from any airstrikes. Even so, bombardment of the suburbs has continued, including shelling of Jobar and Muadimiyeh ash-Sham on Sunday.
As the pressure of a US-led attack has been relieved, at least for two weeks, will the Syrian military not only increase the aerial assault but also send in ground troops?
Fighting in the Damascus suburb of Jobar on Sunday: