Fawaz Gerges writes: Although we do not have independent information as to whether Bashar al-Assad’s regime fired chemical weapons on the eastern suburbs of Damascus and killed hundreds of civilians, as the opposition claims, the burden of proof, morally and legally, lies squarely on the shoulders of the Syrian president.
If the regime’s counter-claims of denial are to be believed, Assad must convince the Syrian people and the world. He can do this by allowing the United Nations inspectors access to the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where this apparent massacre occurred. A 20-strong UN team is already in Damascus, investigating three other incidents of alleged chemical weapons attacks said to have taken place six months ago.
The UN, together with scores of nations, has called on Assad to grant permission to its inspectors and allow them to conduct a “thorough, impartial and prompt investigation”. Assad’s prompt agreement would not only show his sincerity about addressing the serious and urgent concerns of the international community, but could also forestall western military strikes. His refusal could prompt such a strike.
If proven, and given the scale of the atrocity, the “red line” established by US president Barack Obama about the use of chemical weapons has surely been crossed. Pressure is mounting on Obama at home. Some US lawmakers immediately renewed calls for the administration to intervene more decisively in the Syrian conflict.
France has already threatened to retaliate militarily against Syria after a UN security council statement failed to agree to call for UN inspectors to investigate. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said: “If it is proven, France’s position is that there must be a reaction, a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force.”
It is therefore in Assad’s interests – and it is his responsibility – to co-operate with the UN inspectors. [Continue reading…]