Has Bashar al-Assad’s regime carried out a new attack on chemical weapons? The United States has reported “indications” that suggest it, Tuesday, May 21. In a statement, the US State Department mentions an “alleged chlorine attack in northwestern Syria on the morning of May 19”. And threat of retaliation.
The State Department says the “alleged chlorine attack” would have taken place on May 19. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the White Helmets say they have no evidence of such an attack.
“We are still gathering information on this incident,” US Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
In contrast, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), which has an extensive network of sources in Syria, has “documented no chemical attack in the mountains of Latakia” and has “no evidence “, said his director, Rami Abdel Rahmane, to AFP. “There were no civilians in the region”, only jihadists, he also assured, which complicates the independent verification of a possible chemical attack.
The White Helmets, rescuers who have reported several chemical attacks in the past, also told AFP they did not have “for the moment any information on this attack”.
An attack in the last enclave held by jihadists
“We reiterate our warning,” continued the US spokeswoman. “If the Assad regime uses chemical weapons, the United States and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately.”
Since the election of Donald Trump, the United States has twice hit targets of the Syrian regime in response to chemical attacks: in April 2017, in retaliation for a lethal attack on sarin gas in Khan Cheikhoun, and a year later late, with France and the United Kingdom, in response to a chemical attack on civilians in Duma.
Both times, the regime denied any responsibility for the attacks. But, recalled Morgan Ortagus, “the Assad regime itself has led almost all the confirmed attacks to the chemical weapon that took place in Syria”.
This time, this possible attack took place in Idleb province, the last enclave held by jihadist groups in Syria, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the former Syrian branch of Al Qaeda.
This zone has been considered a “de-escalation” zone since September, but Syrian forces and their Russian allies have intensified their attacks since the end of April, raising fears of an offensive to regain control. The US State Department spokeswoman accuses the regime of violating “a ceasefire that has protected millions of civilians in Idleb province.”