Via The Guardian: Chemical weapons attacks in Syria may normalise war crimes, experts warn. Excerpt and then a comment:
A woman and two children have been killed and dozens injured in an alleged chlorine gas attack in Aleppo, doctors have said, as experts warned that the frequent use of chemical weapons in Syria risks normalising war crimes.
There have been dozens of attacks with chlorine gas since Syria officially agreed to give up its weapons stockpile following a 2013 sarin gas assault on a Damascus suburb, rights groups and doctors on the ground said.
The latest reports came as Russia offered to halt fighting for three hours a day to allow aid into besieged parts of the city, but the UN countered by saying it needed at least 48 hours a week to take convoys through heavily bombed and mined roads into eastern Aleppo.
There are still 1.5 million people living in Aleppo, the city that was Syria’s largest before the civil war and is now at the heart of the brutal battle for its future. About 300,000 civilians in rebel-held areas are at grave risk from water shortages and disease as fighting has intensified, said the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura.
Asked about the chemical attack on the Aleppo district of Zubdiya, he said there was a lot of evidence that it took place, and it would constitute a war crime if chlorine gas was used, but he added that it was not his remit to verify the attack. “If it did take place, it is a war crime and as such it would require everyone … to address it immediately,” he added.
Last week, doctors in the neighbouring province of Idlib said they had treated more than two dozen patients following a suspected chlorine attack on the town of Saraqeb.
The challenge of verifying the use of chemical weapons in a war zone, particularly chlorine – which disperses rapidly and does not leave a unique chemical trace when used as a weapon – has hampered efforts to track their use.
However, the UN’s chemical weapons watchdog says it is confident that chlorine gas has been used as a weapon. It does not apportion blame but has said the bombs were probably dropped by helicopters used by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian government denies using chemical weapons, and since the US president, Barack Obama, stepped back from enforcing his “red line” on their use, attacks have drawn nothing more than public condemnation from western leaders.
Although most recent attacks have been relatively small, the toll of dead and maimed civilians and activists is mounting, and experts are concerned that the use of chemical weapons is no longer as shocking as it was a few years ago.
“There is certainly a huge risk of normalising [the use of chemical weapons],” said Richard Guthrie, a British chemical weapons expert who has raised concerns about the wider impacts of Syria’s continued use of toxins as weapons.
Something bad has been happening in Aleppo for five years, but now it begins to look like something even worse: a public health catastrophe. The New York Times says two million people in Aleppo now have no water and little electrical power. That's more than three times the population of the city of Vancouver, BC. The UN says millions of Syrians are in "free fall" as a result. Even getting humanitarian aid into the city is difficult to impossible until the Russians and the Assad government agree to much longer cease-fires than they have so far offered.
If this continues, the consequences are entirely predictable: outbreaks of waterborne diseases, from diarrhea to cholera; severe malnutrition; deaths from normally preventable causes; a spike in child and maternal mortality. Those who survive will be severely traumatized. Whichever gang of wretches wins will have won a Pyrrhic victory, and a wasteland to celebrate it in.
We outsiders are casualties as well. In 2011 we enjoyed the prospect of Syria's Arab Spring and the fall of the House of Assad. Then it didn't fall, and Assad's enemies turned out to be at least as obnoxious. Whether we lost interest early or late, the civil war has brutalized us as well as the combatants. Now we shrug off the use of chemical weapons that have been anathema for a century, and the prospect of the destruction of two million men, women, and children disturbs us very little.
On September 2 last year, I posted the dreadful image of two-year-old Alan Kurdi dead on a Turkish beach. That tiny tragedy shocked the world, for a while. But the International Organization for Migration tells us that over 2,750 others died last year, and over 3,150 others have died since January 1. Scores of thousands of other refugees remain trapped against national borders, surviving on a fraction of the aid they need. Whatever their troubles, we suffer the terrible affliction of donor fatigue.
And it is a terrible affliction: It makes us complicit in crimes against humanity. Worse yet, it deceives us into thinking that however bad life may be in Aleppo, or Haiti, or South Sudan, it's really not our problem. But it is indeed our problem, and when we ignore it we only ensure that we ourselves, and our children, will soon be under siege.