Video footage showing rows of children in burial shrouds and doctors desperately trying to save other victims shocked the world on August 20. What appeared to be a chemical attack on rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital was the latest in a series of allegations that the regime of Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons in its war against the armed opposition. Just over a year ago, Barack Obama, the US president, vowed that any use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war would be a ‘red line’ that would provoke US intervention in Syria’s conflict. But despite acknowledging that Mr Assad has used chemical weapons, the US has so far failed to take action. Here is a timeline of US statements on chemical weapons and allegations of their use in Syria.
July 23, 2012 The Bashar al-Assad regime confirmed for the first time it possessed chemical weapons, saying it would use them in the case of Western military intervention but never against the Syrian population.
August 20, 2012 President Barack Obama announces his “red line” for Syrian intervention, threatening “enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.”
December 6 2012 The White House expresses concern that the Assad regime “might be considering the use of chemical weapons” and that the Syrian authorities would be “held accountable by the United States and the international community if they use chemical weapons or fail to meet their obligations to secure them”. Read more
Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest tells reporters UN investigators should be granted access to determine whether chemical weapons were used by the Asad regime in Syria (Getty)
Of course, we don’t yet know for sure that it was the Assad regime that carried out the horrific chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus. Assad’s friends are already arguing that it was a “false flag” attack – designed to bring the West in, on the side of the rebels. It is actually hard to imagine anyone, being prepared to use weapons this horrific. But the finger of suspicion does point strongly to Assad for three main reasons.
First, the regime has already used chemical weapons in small amounts, over the course of this conflict. Second, a chemical attack on this scale is not that easy to stage. You need the weaponry and the knowledge of how to deploy it. Finally – and most conclusively, in my eyes – the Syrian government’s refusal (so far) to let the UN chemical weapons inspectors in to see the site, suggests they have something to hide. Read more