September 11, 2013
Some fear a political concession would do nothing to reduce the body count in Syria.
Nuha Shabaan and Janelle Dumalaon, Special for USA TODAY
Syria Direct’s Nuha Shabaan contributed reporting from Amman. The original link to the story on USAToday.com is here.
AMMAN, Jordan — Syria’s main rebel bloc warned Tuesday that President Obama should reject a Russian proposal on chemical weapons, saying it will “lead to more death and destruction of the Syrian people.”
The Syrian National Coalition says the West should go ahead with military strikes against the regime of President Bashar Assad to give the rebellion a chance to end the war.
“A violation of international law should lead to an international retaliation that is proportional in size,” the group said. “Crimes against humanity cannot be dropped by giving political concessions or by handing over the weapons used in these crimes.”
The rebels’ stand comes as Human Rights Watch said evidence “strongly suggests” the Syrian government fired rockets with warheads containing a nerve agent — most likely sarin — into a Damascus suburb in August, killing hundreds of people.
Assad has claimed that his forces are not responsible for the attack and his regime is backing a Russian proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international oversight. Russia says the deal should force Obama to reject military strikes.
Abdulwahab Omar, a London-based Syrian activist, said the deal will do nothing to keep the body count from mounting in the war-torn country.
“The regime handing over of any quantity of chemical weapons will not end the civil war in any way,” he said. “It may appear as a political achievement. But the average person on the street will live in no less fear as a result.”
Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said Tuesday his government has accepted the Russian-led proposal to “uproot U.S. aggression.” But rebels say there is little reason to believe the Assad regime will conscientiously fulfill the agreement and be upfront about the amount of chemical weapons in its stockpile.
“No one knows how many chemical weapons are in Bashar (Assad)’s possession and in addition the Syrian regime would start production of (new) chemical weapons again, anyway,” said Ibrahim Aslan, official spokesman for the Free Syrian Army’s Midwestern front in Latakia.
Some analysts said the agreement may help lessen the violence.
“The agreement provides the Russian and U.S. governments a ladder to climb down, so de-escalation can begin,” said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics. “If Russia can deliver Syria when it comes to ceding control of its chemical arsenal, surely Russia can deliver Syria when it comes to a political settlement.”
Russia has been supporting Syria’s regime, providing arms and preventing any meaningful action against Assad at the United Nations Security Council. Russia and China have three times vetoed U.N. resolutions calling for condemnation of the Syrian regime.
The United States has sought a political settlement that would ease Assad out of power and vowed to provide some lethal aid to the rebels but thus far has not done so. More than 100,000 people have died as a result of the fighting, mostly civilians.
Gerges said the Russian deal rests on the details. Up until now, Syria has denied possessing chemical weapons.
“Many things can go wrong,” Gerges said. “When they say putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, what does that mean? Will the opposition cooperate? What about the hard-liners in the Assad regime?”
And even with the doubts, activists remain firm that the chemical weapons agreement brokered by Russia cannot be a standalone deal if it is to make a difference in Syria.
“Chemical weapons account for approximately 2% of the deaths in Syria. Unless we do something which will also have a significant effect on the other 98%, all that would have been achieved is a textbook exercise,” Omar said.
“If we can push something significantly similar with the conventional weapons arsenal of Syria, not just the chemical weapons, then we would have done something significant, in which to prevent people losing their lives,” he added.
The Syrian National Coalition said Moscow’s proposal “aims to procrastinate and will lead to more death and destruction of the Syrian people.”
Dumalaon reported from Berlin