Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad today rejected widely aired allegations by Western intelligence agencies that regime forces had used chemical weapons in a mass attack last week.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had already said last Wednesday that “it was not the first time they used chemical weapons,” referring to previous reports that attacks took place on a smaller scale. Describing the war as an existential struggle between the Shiite Alawite sect and Sunnis, the Israeli defense minister said there was no end in sight to the conflict. “I don’t see an end to this situation, even Assad’s fall it won’t lead to its end,” he added in a meeting in Tel Aviv with Israeli correspondents.
He repeated the points after a meeting yesterday with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Jerusalem.
Israeli intelligence analysts expressed confidence that the Syrian army, specifically, launched the chemical weapons against several neighborhoods on the outskirts of Damascus. It is believed that rockets with nerve gas were used in the attack.
The defense minister had on Wednesday described the formations of ethnic and sectarian enclaves in Syria: Kurds in the northeast of the country with links to Iraqi Kurds, Iran-backed Alawites in the coastal region with a corridor to Damascus, and Sunnis in the north. He emphasized that Israel has chosen not to intervene, but will seek to enforce red lines it has defined: to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to “irresponsible” element, a reference to both the regime’s Hezbollah and elements of Al Qaeda in the opposition, to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons to those groups, and to defend Israel’s sovereignty.
Ya’alon stated that “the Assad regime… is present in only forty percent of the country” and observed that the Syrian conflict “has become a regional and a global conflict for a long period.”
[Photo: Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / Wikimedia.org]