Syria: Chemical weapons back in spotlight

Syria doctors report new chemical attacks in eastern Damascus area, sending international worries of continuing use of chemical agents in the three year civil war. These attacks seem to be occurring despite the chemical weapons handover to the UN’s Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Doctors from the American Medical Society, a group of Syrian-American doctors and surgeons traveling in and out of Syria, tell Syria Deeply a couple of attacks have been reported in each of the last few months. They confirm they have seen symptoms of chemical weapons usage on Syrians and suggest different chemical agents are being used.

This seems to back Syria’s opposition accusation of the government putting on a poison attack in Damascus’ Jobar. The evidence presented by the opposition was via video footage. This comes after Syria’s government accused rebels of planning a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area by way of a letter to the United Nations Security Council.

[More information at the Syria Deeply interview with the president of the Syrian-American Medical Society]

On the ground

Syria’s government is stepping up operations in the Damascus area, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports. They state the forces are trying to storm Mleiha out east of the capital. 22 members of the opposition were killed in the government bombardment as rebels try to hold the area.

Airstrikes continue to be conducted by the Syria government, as seven deaths are reported Friday. Mortar bombs hitting in Harasta in the northwest of Damascus killing six children, wounds five others, the Syrian state news agency reports.

Rebels take northern Syrian town Babolin off main highway from Damascus to Aleppo on Friday, activists say. 18 government soldiers were killed in the clashes and two government tanks were disabled.

Rockets also hit a Turkish border town Yayladagi on Friday and Turkey’s military hit targets in Syria with artillery fire in its response to the rockets.

Formerly al-Qaida backed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) publicly torches cigarettes and alcohol in Syria’s Raqqa as the group continues to impose Sharia law on local residents.

[Video of the public torching from VICE News]

Chemical weapons update

Violence in the Latakia province, a long-time Assad home stronghold now under a rebel offensive, is delaying the Syria government chemical weapons handover as Latakia lies on the Mediterranean coastline.

The United Nations states 40 percent of the country’s stockpile is packed and ready to go despite the ongoing violence.

A recent meeting with the OPCW shares, “toxins had been loaded into 72 containers at three different sites [and] once those 72 containers are shipped out of war-torn Syria, some 90 percent of the country’s declared chemical weapons stockpile will have been removed for destruction.”

Despite the threatened delay, diplomats continue to say Syria can still meet the 27 April deadline in the handover.

Through talks

Nations across the world, as part of Friends of Syria, joined together to rebuff the upcoming presidential election plans.

“Elections organized by the Assad regime would be a parody of democracy, would reveal the regime’s rejection of the basis of the Geneva talks, and would deepen the division of Syria,” said the 11-strong group, which includes the United States, France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

They state that the elections are essentially for President Assad to “sustain his dictatorship.”

Syria’s economy will take at least 30 years to fully recover, the United Nations says. From TIME Magazine:

“You can’t even compare the destruction in Syria to Lebanon’s civil war, or Bosnia. This is on the level of World War II. We are seeing a reversal of decades of economic development, and I don’t know how, if ever, Syria will recover.” [Jihad Yazigi, editor the online economic digest The Syria Report] says that the UNRWA assessment is optimistic. “It could take 40 to 50 years to recover.”

A minister in Kuwait resigns after the United States accuses him of financing Syria jihad groups.

Daily reminder

The death toll out of Syria’s ongoing deadly civil war has reached the 150,000 mark, the Syria Observatory for Human Rights states in a report.

Headlines 

Refugees reflect on struggles to adapt in Lebanon after the one millionth refugee registers Thursday. Also, Syrian refugee children find safety from war but new dangers on the streets.

A pro-government paper in Syria accuses United Nations’ envoy to the Arab League Brahimi for encouraging “terrorism.”

Facing ongoing electricity cuts, Aleppo creates and sustains a generator industry.

Analysis: Forget Ukraine, Syria is the world’s biggest threat.

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