BREAKING: Chemical weapons use reported in #Syria, Has Obama's red-line has been crossed?

See also today: BREAKING: 300 killed in air strike on breadline in #Syria

10:42 PM PT:

From Israel News

7 killed in Syria from 'sarin-like gas'

Published: 12.24.12, 08:32
Opposition activists tell Al-Jazeera poisonous gas sprayed by Assad's forces in Homs neighborhood; German weekly says elite Israeli, American, French unites operating deep in Syria to take control of chemical arms arsenals
Seven people were killed in Homs' rebel-held neighborhood of al-Bayyada when they inhaled a poisonous gas sprayed by Syrian Army forces, opposition activists told Al-Jazeera early Monday.

According to the activists, scores of others suffered from side effects, including nausea, relaxed muscles, blurred vision, and breathing difficulties. More...

9:35 PM PT: We have this update from Al Jazeera Syria Live Blog:

Poisonous gas sprayed in Homs leaves seven people dead and scores affected, activists say

December 24, 2012 - 04:07
Seven people have died in Homs after they inhaled a poisonous gas sprayed by government forces in a rebel-held neighbourhood, activists said.

Activists also told Al Jazeera that scores of others were affected in al-Bayyada neighbourhood. Side effects reported include nausea, relaxed muscles, blurred vision, and breathing difficulties.

Residents said they did not know the nature of the gas sprayed.

"The situation is very difficult. We do not have enough facemasks. We don't know what this gas is but medics are saying it's something similar to Sarin gas," Raji Rahmet Rabbou, an activist in Homs, told Al Jazeera.

1:55 PM PT:

1:12 PM PT:

11:47 AM PT:

MORE BREAKING: Al Jazeera Live Blog reporting poison gas use against rebels in Homs

This just in:

Poisonous gas sprayed in a rebel-held neighbourhood in Homs, medics there say

December 23, 2012 - 22:27
This video shows medics in a besieged area in Homs city trying to help a person struggling to breath. They say he inhaled poisonous gas sprayed by regime forces in the rebel-held al-Bayada neighbourhood.

Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the accounts given by him.

I have also seen these twitter reports of a gas attack in Homs:

Follow clayclai on Twitter

The Iranian mouthpiece Press TV has just published this story claiming that the Syrian opposition has used chemical weapons against the Syrian government and that at least seven Syrian soldiers have been killed.

Let me be clear at the outset that I do not believe this report! I know that Press TV is an unreliable source, in fact I exposed their perchance for spreading misinformation long ago in my diary here.

I do not believe that militants have used chemical weapons in Syria. However, I consider the publication of this report by Press TV to be BREAKING NEWS of the highest order. Just as the reports of an attack by North Vietnamese PT boats against US destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, an "attack" that we now know never happened, was certainly "Breaking News" of the highest order.

The mere claim by Iranian or Syrian government sources that the opposition has already used chemical weapons indicates that some very big moves are afoot: If the Syrian government is claiming that "militants" have killed seven of their soldiers through the first use of chemical weapons,
How will they now respond?

Here is the Press TV piece:

Syria militants use chemical weapons against Syrian forces

Sun Dec 23, 2012 2:4PM GMT
Militants fighting against the Syrian government have used chemical weapons against the army in Daraya near the capital, Damascus, military sources say.

According to a commander of the Syrian Presidential Guard, at least seven Syrian soldiers were killed on Saturday after they were attacked by a chemical weapon which produced a toxic yellow gas.

The soldiers were reportedly killed within an hour after inhaling the gas.

Foreign-backed militants have repeatedly threatened to use chemical weapons against the army and pro-government civilians in recent days.

They have also threatened to contaminate Syria's drinking water supply in a bid to kill all Alawite Shias and the supporters of President Bashar al-Assad.

The threat was made in a video posted on YouTube in which militants tested water contaminated with a lethal mixture on lab rabbits. The rabbits stopped breathing and their chests swelled shortly after drinking the poisoned water.

The militants had earlier released a footage in which lab rabbits were killed by inhaling poisonous gas.

The militants' use of chemical weapons come as the US and its allies have alleged that the Syrian government possesses the deadly weapons and is prepared to use them against militants.

The Iranian FAR News Agency is carrying reports similar to the Press TV report:

Syria: Terrorists Use Chemical Weapons against Army

15:37 | 2012-12-23
TEHRAN (FNA)- Armed rebels used chemical weapons in their attacks against the Syrian army in Reef (outskirts of) Damascus on Sunday.
The terrorists used chemical weapons against the Syrian army forces in Darya district of Reef Damascus today.

"The terrorists have already thrown three cube-shaped plastic bags towards the (Syrian) army's forces that killed seven forces due to the gases emerging from the bags," a commander of the Syrian Presidential Guard told the Iran-based Arab-language Al-Alam news channel on Sunday.

The commander noted that a yellow button is installed on the bags and by pushing that a yellow gas came out and those who inhaled it died after nearly one hour.

Since several weeks ago, different media had reported about the presence of chemical weapons in Syria and the possibility of its use by armed rebels.

Earlier this month, a senior member of the Iranian parliament had warned that based on developments during the last 21 months of crisis in Syria, the terrorist groups are much more eager to use chemical weapons than the Syrian army.

The remarks were made by Head of the Parliament's Education and Research Commission Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi in an interview with the Parliament's news agency.

"The situation on the ground and what has happened over the past 21 months indicate that the possibility of using chemical and unconventional weapons by the rebels in Syria is much higher than the Syrian government," Zahedi said. More...

These reports comes after yesterday's reports from Russia that Syria's chemical weapons were being safeguarded.

Below the fold is what I planned to do with my diary today before the above story came across my desk. I wish to introduce you to another voice on the Syrian Revolution, The Revolution Observer.

The Revolution Observer, 17 Dec 2012, by Abu Anas:

Secrets of the US-Syrian Relations

After the defeat of the Ottoman Caliphate in World War I, and through the Sykes-Picot agreement between France and Britain in 1916, the French occupied what we know today as Syria. For one to understand the extent of US influence in Syria and to map the relationship between the Assad regime and the US, one must consider the history of modern Syria. The following are 10 key points, in chronological order, starting from the time of Western colonization of Syria to the present day, highlighting US involvement in the country.

1.) US and CIA orchestrated military coups in Syria since 1949: The US, through its embassy in Damascus and the CIA, led the first ever military coup in Syria in 1949, as detailed in the book “The Game of Nations” by Miles Copeland. This marked the beginning of the international struggle over the Middle East between the United States, the new entrant to the world arena, and the Europeans (French and British) who held the influence in the region but came out of World War II devastated. The US embassy and the CIA continued to support several subsequent military coups in Syria throughout the 50s and 60s against their European rivals, this was an era of instability that lasted over two decades.

2.) Hafez's pullout out of the 1967 war to secure Israel: Ex-President, Amin al-Hafiz, said in an interview on Al-Jazeera on July 2nd, 2001 that Hafez al-Assad, the then Defense Minister, sent a strict order of withdrawal to the Syrian army from the Golan Heights at the beginning of the war. This was before any sign of defeat or real confrontation against the Israeli military which has resulted in the occupation of such a strategic location.[1] It was through this move, Assad gained the trust of the US in defending Israel's northern border, which he continued to do for the next three decades.

3.) US supporting Syria through UN Resolution 242 in 1967: UN Resolution 242 which was passed after the 1967 War, commonly known as the six-day war, with Israel and its occupation of the Golan Heights, grants Syria, to this day, the right to regain back its territory.[2] The US supported this agreement and Syria's right to its territory. This is in stark contrast to the Israeli position, apart from occasional lip service, of rejecting any notion of surrendering this geographically strategic territory.

4.) Strengthened US-Syrian relations after the 1973 war: After the 1973 surprise war with Israel, the US should have slammed Syria with sanctions. On the contrary, in 1974, President Nixon personally paid a visit to Damascus to strengthen relations with the Assad regime.

5.) US acceptance of Syrian occupation of Lebanon since 1976: Syrian troops invaded Lebanon at the beginning of the civil war. The silence on part of the US against such an occupation was a "green light" to Hafez al-Assad to initiate and continue this invasion until 2005, when a French-mandated resolution pushed the Syrians out with American reluctance. One political analyst described this US role by saying: "[The US] seemed tacitly to acquiesce to continued Syrian ascendancy in Lebanon."[3]

6.) Cooperation of Syria and US through the Tai'f Agreement in 1989: The Ta'if agreement was signed in Saudi Arabia between the different Lebanese factions to put an end to the civil war in 89’. The US was the power broker besides France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria that helped form the agreement, "prompting international support for Syrian―guardianship over Lebanon."[4]

7.) Syria joining the US in its campaign to invade Iraq in 1991: Syria supported the US in its war campaign against Iraq (Operation Desert Storm) and sent 14,500 soldiers and personnel to aid the US in its invasion of Iraq.[5]

8.) US mediating negotiation between Syria and Israel during 1990's: Hafez al-Assad accepted the US to be a mediator between Syria and Israel. Army Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Hikmat al-Shihabi, led the delegation to the US that discussed peace negotiations on the matter. In an interview with Russia Today TV, Syrian ex-Minister of Defense and a pillar of the Assad regime, Mustafa Tlass, stated unequivocally that al-Shihabi was a CIA-agent for the US.[6]

9.) Intelligence cooperation between CIA and Syria to torture detainees since 2001: The close cooperation between the CIA and the Syrian regime was so warm, that even during times when Syria was called a rogue state, the Syrian regime offered its services to do the dirty work of the CIA. The regime used its world renowned intelligence agencies to extract information from detainees and prisoners of war through torture for the CIA. The famous case of Canadian citizen Maher Arar is one example that made International news.[7]

10.) US support of regime during the Syrian Revolution of 2011: As has been discussed in detail through our first part of this series on the agency of the Assad regime, the US has stood silent and watched the daily slaughter of Syrian civilians for 2 years, in addition to denying the rebels the weapons needed to protect themselves and to oust Assad.

As can clearly be seen, the US tried early on in Syria’s modern history to set its agents in power through military coups. Although the US continued its public rhetoric against Syria, it achieved complete hegemony when its agent, Hafez al-Assad, gained power in 1970. Since al-Assad, Syria has been a covert proxy state for the US serving its interests in the region and protecting Israel’s northern borders, while outwardly claiming to be the resistance leader within the Arab region.

The Revolution Observer, 8 Aug 2012, by Abu Anas:

The US Strategy In Syria

The United States has a great stake in Syria due to its geopolitical and strategic interest. It is very critical for any politician or activist to understand the interests and strategies employed by the world powers in a specific political scene. In the previous post, we have shed some light on the geopolitical interests of the US in Syria and now we will concentrate on the strategies employed by the US to preserve its influence in Syria due to this popular uprising that has shook its agent regime.

Looking backwards to the beginning of the uprising, the US has changed its posture toward the revolution three times, utilizing different strategies due to changes on the Syrian political scene.

The first strategy, which was utilized from the beginning of the revolution for little less than one year, can be termed as the "hands-off approach." The US policy makers, like many skeptics who knew the viciousness of the Syrian regime, had no doubt that the regime will be able to crush the masses and return them to their homes. The Syrian regime was very stern since the beginning, stating that it is very different from all of the other revolutions and Syria is not vulnerable to popular uprisings. The US was convinced by the regime rhetoric and therefore provided it with the necessary political cover through the Arab Summit and later on the UN resolutions, which gave it lots of time to crack down upon the people. The regime was advised by the US to utilize what was termed as "smart killing", which is the killing of less than 50 people a day, so as to not enrage the world public opinion against the criminal silence of the Western, so called Democratic and Free, world.

The resilience and determination of the Muslims of Syria has flabbergasted the whole world and sent shock waves through the policy making centers of the Western administrations. That is when the US administration came running with a different strategy to save its agent regime in Damascus, its second strategy, which we can call the "Yemeni approach." The US started through the Arab League and later on through the special envoy from the UN, Kofi Annan, to promote the "political transition" in similar steps as Ali Abdallah Saleh has taken in Yemen to transfer his powers to a so-called "opposition" transitional government. The deal was, in summary, the stepping down of Bashar al-Assad, securing his exit from the country and the appointment of his vice president, Farouq al-Shar'a, as his successor to lead a transitional government formed by giving some seats in it to an approved set of Syrian opposition figures, mainly from the Turkish-based Syrian National Council (SNC).

Due to the horrendous bloodshed and savagery of the regime's militias on one hand and the awareness of the Syrian people on the other, such a middle ground compromise that was set to preserve the whole regime, except for a face change, was trampled by the rebels. After 6-months of trying this Yemeni approach, the US had to change gears for a third time. The third strategy which happens to be the current one employed by the US against the revolution can be summarized in the proverb, "if you can't beat them, join them." This "infiltration approach" is based on two pillars, the first is to get some of the loyal elements from the regime to defect and join the opposition to steer it away from their goals. The second pillar is to try to buy out some loyalties from the current opposition through money, weapons supply, intimidation, psychological warfare, etc. The goal is to maintain as much of the old regime as possible while at the same time give the illusion of change to the masses to calm the streets and maintain control of the country.

We have seen lots of defections from the top echelon of the regime that would be playing such a role, most notably the close friend of Bashar al-Assad, Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, and the Syrian ambassador in Iraq, Nawaf al-Fares. There has been many news leaks about CIA operatives on the Turkish borders with Syria and even inside Homs and Idlib trying to filter out the FSA factions so support can be given to the appropriate ones. It is in the Syrian vital interest not to allow some of the doubtful characters from the top of the regime, who are defecting now, from leading the revolution or have any role in influencing the future of Syria.

The Revolution Observer, 20 Aug 2012, by Abu Anas:

The Agency of the Assad Regime

The goal of mainstream media outlets is the shaping of people's viewpoints based on the agendas of governments and multinational corporations. Therefore, the Muslim political observer, without an official media outlet to reflect his strategic and vital interests, is left to be bombarded by anti-Islamic propaganda that purposefully misinforms and distorts reality. This has led to the misconception that the relationship between the United States and Syria is filled with animosity. This article will be the first of a two part series discussing this topic.

For anyone to be able to explain the relationship between different countries one must understand the interests of these countries and their political actions must be analyzed so one can define what type of relationship they have. The media has suggested that the Syrian regime is part of the Iranian "axis of evil" which jeopardizes the US interests in the region. Iran has a strategic depth extending through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and even Bahrain, Yemen and Gaza. The Syrian regime, of all of these players, stands out as the strongest ally to Iran and is a pillar in its ability to project power into the Arab world. Based on this assumption, analysts have said that it is the strategic interest of the US to bring down the regime to undermine the Iranian influence in the region. They add that eliminating Syria from the Iranian sphere of influence will deal a great blow to Iran's expansionist strategy.

The political observer realizes that such an assumption is false through the examination of the political actions by the US towards the Syrian regime since the beginning of the revolution. One would be assured that if the above understanding of the US-Syrian relations were true then the US would have nurtured relationships with the Syrian opposition inside Syria from day one and even before the revolution. The first fact is that the US has left the regime to crack down upon the peaceful protests for months despite raw footage showing inhumane and totally savage behavior of the Assad militias (“shabiha”) towards innocent civilians. Aside from empty rhetoric and lip service from the US administration, nothing concrete was applied to support the rebels. Even the US ambassador to Syria stayed in Damascus under the guise of trying to collect information on the ground. The political cover that the US has provided to the regime, through the Arab League and the UN, cannot go unnoticed to even the amateur political observer and certainly not to the Syrian rebels.

The second fact, which is of greater importance, is the US not providing any military support to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and until just recently giving a green light to Saudi Arabia and Qatar to fund the smuggling of meager weapons to the rebels. The US administration refused to support the FSA with weapons under the excuse of not wanting to further militarize the conflict and just recently under the guise of Islamist composition of the FSA. It is of paramount importance to know that what is needed to bring down the regime in a relatively short period of time is to provide portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. The FSA has specifically requested RPG-29 and SAM-7 supplies, something which is very easy for the US to provide. The US has given more sophisticated weaponry to the Afghan freedom fighters during the invasion in the 1970s which brought the Soviet Union to its knees. That kind of support can be used as the benchmark for when the US wants to bring down a regime. It is very clear that the US has behaved in a totally different fashion with the Syrian rebels.

A couple of issues that can be brought up by skeptics are the mistrust of some FSA factions and not having a unified and clear command for the FSA overall. First, if the Syrian regime was that much of a threat to the US, then supporting its enemies to cause its demise would be a priority. Second, the US could have from early on signaled that it will militarily support the opposition and it would have been very easy to connect with one of the defectors that would fulfill the US interests. When the US publicly supports that FSA personnel and its faction with the needed weapons, all future defectors will naturally fall in line under its leadership. This fact was confirmed by a Syrian financier to the rebels who was quoted as saying: "The number of fighters each commander can summon wax and wane with his ability to arm and pay them and their families, so there is no particular leader with enough clout to bring the brigades together."[1] So both questions can be easily resolved when you supply such a contact with the needed weapons and the rest is a trickle down effect.

It can be seen clearly from the above analysis of the US relationship with the Syrian regime that the US prefers this regime to continue and that there is no hostilities, at least not to the level the mainstream media would like to propose is the case. The Syrian regime has secured the US interests in the region, specifically toward Israel, and the US is very happy to continue such a relationship, if possible, for the future. The Syrian people in general, and the rebels in specific, have to realize that the real support to the regime is coming from Washington first and foremost and not only from Moscow and Tehran!

Here are my related diaries on Syria:
BREAKING: Russia takes control of Syrian chemical weapons
Syria: Assad Regime enters the Deathwatch Phase
SecState[?] John Kerry and his 'dear friend' Bashar Assad
A Libyan rebel speaks out on Jihadists in Syria
Does what Obama said at Newtown apply to Syria?
BREAKING: Heavy fighting in Damascus as coup attempt reported in progress
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Jabhat al-Nusra is a Threat to the Syrian Revolution
AP weighs in on Obama's Green Light for Assad's slaughter in Syria
Syrian opposition says "Thanks but No Thanks!" to foreign intervention
BREAKING: Assad firing Scud missiles at Syria
Is Assad using white phosphorus in Syria?
BREAKING: Obama recognizes opposition in Syria
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State of the war in Syria: Most of Damascus now in FSA hands!
Syria: Obama's moves Assad's "red line" back as SOHR reports 42,000 dead!
UPDATED: Syria goes dark as "cleansing" begins in Damascus
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BREAKING: Russia denies Syrian army on brink of collapse
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