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Syria rebels demand Western strike as U.N. convoy fired on

Aug. 26, 2013 - 05:07PM   |  
A U.N. team that was scheduled to investigate an alleged chemical attack that killed hundreds last week in a Damascus suburb left its hotel in a convoy Aug. 26 in Damascus, Syria. The U.N. later reported that snipers shot at one of the team's vehicles. No injuries were reported.
A U.N. team that was scheduled to investigate an alleged chemical attack that killed hundreds last week in a Damascus suburb left its hotel in a convoy Aug. 26 in Damascus, Syria. The U.N. later reported that snipers shot at one of the team's vehicles. No injuries were reported. (AP)
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Black columns of smoke rise from heavy shelling Aug. 25 in the Jobar neighborhood, east of Damascus, Syria. The U.N. said Monday that snipers fired on one of its vehicles in Syria to inspect reports of chemical weapons use. No injuries were reported. (Hassan Ammar / AP)

AMMAN, JORDAN — Syrian opposition activists said Monday they want military intervention in the war-torn country as the international community considers what action to take in response to a chemical weapons attack that reportedly killed hundreds of people last week.

Syrian President Bashar Assad “has used all kinds of weapons, chemical and cluster bombs, during massacres in Syria,” said Abu Jaafar al-Mugarbel, an activist based in Homs, in western Syria.

“There is nothing that can stop the regime from doing that except military intervention. It is not the best way forward but there is nothing else after all that has happened.”

A vehicle carrying U.N. chemical weapons investigators came under sniper fire Monday as it was heading toward the site of the alleged chemical attack. One vehicle was disabled, but no injuries were reported. The Syrian government accused the rebels of firing at the team, while a rebel representative said a pro-government militia was behind the attack.

Wassim al-Ahmad, a member of the Moadamiyeh local council, said five U.N. investigators eventually arrived at a makeshift hospital in the suburb where doctors and about 100 people still with symptoms from the alleged chemical attack were brought in to meet with the U.N. team.

“They are late, they came six days late,” he told The Associated Press via Skype from Moadamiyeh, referring to the time it took the U.N. team to arrive. “All the people have already been buried.”

The shooting comes as U.S. naval forces move closer to Syria while Western powers discuss how to respond to the alleged chemical attacks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that any military intervention in Syria without a mandate from the U.N. would be a grave violation of international law.

While the rebels are already receiving light arms from the West and from Gulf states, the opposition said they still don’t want foreign troops on the ground but instead a no-fly zone to help them fight the regime as well as air attacks.

“First, hit military locations to stop missile attacks and air raids, which kill thousands of civilians,” said Abu Rami, a 32-year-old anti-Assad activist in Homs. “But I’m against ground intervention in Syria to avoid what happened in Iraq. It is unacceptable for all Syrians.”

The alleged chemical assault happened Wednesday on towns in Ghouta, which is east of Damascus. The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders put the number of dead at more than 350. Syrians in the area claim more than 1,300 people died.

Images and videos have flooded the Internet showing children and adults suffering from symptoms —including dilated pupils, increased paleness and shaking —that are consistent with chemical weapons. The images could not be verified by independent sources.

British Foreign Secretary of State William Hague has called for a “strong response” to the use of chemical weapons, and his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, said Germany would support any “consequences” of the attack.

But some activists said they were skeptical the international community would take the action needed to stop the violence.

“For two years, we have been hearing about a no-fly zone but it still hasn’t happened,” said Rami.

His comments were echoed by campaigners at Adopt a Revolution, an organization based in Berlin supporting revolutionary groups in Syria.

“The activists on the ground say, ‘We are tired of asking the international community for anything because so far we haven’t received anything,’” said Elias Perabo, spokesman for the organization.

“But more and more people are joining the Free Syrian Army to bring the conflict to an end because otherwise they will die.”

While the U.N.’s Security Council has discussed the option of intervention in Syria, any decisions on action have been vetoed by Russia and China, who support Assad’s regime.

The USA has provided unspecified military aid to Syrian rebels since it concluded chemical weapons had been used by the Syrian regime earlier this year. However, it has refrained from intervening further.

Even if the United States does decide to intervene, analysts said it was unlikely to be to a scale that would change the outcome of the conflict, which has seen more than 100,000 people die since it began in 2011.

“It’s possible that we would see some kind of smaller-scale intervention, for example a strike at a missile-launch site or even a strike at the air force capability in Syria but beyond that, there is apparently no international appetite for any kind of ground intervention and I think that is the only thing that would have a chance at changing the outcome of the war,” said Anna Boyd, deputy head of MENA forecasting at IHS, defense and security analysts, in London.

Still, members of the Free Syria Army, the group of ex-Syrian army members and others who are the main fighting force against Assad, say if there was any intervention, it would be for the U.S.’s own interests and not because the international community was trying to protect civilians.

“Despite the blockade of weapons, the FSA has made progress in the field and out putting Assad in the position where he needed to use chemical weapons,” said Ibrahim Aslan, a spokesman for the FSA’s force based near Latakia, in western Syria.

“This means that FSA has forced the U.S. to look at intervening militarily in Syria. But it won’t do this to save the Syrians but only out of their interests.”

U.S. defense officials told The Associated Press that the Navy had sent a fourth warship armed with ballistic missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea but without immediate orders for any missile launch into Syria.

Navy ships are capable of a variety of military actions, including launching Tomahawk cruise missiles as they did against Libya in 2011 as part of an international action that led to the overthrow of the Libyan government.

Contributing: Doug Stanglin from McLean, Va., Louise Osborne and Victor Kotsev from Berlin, Associated Press

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