Reports said that Assad regime forces used explosive barrel bombs to attack rebel-held areas in Syria’s central despite a warning by the US that their use will lead to renewed US strikes in Syria.
More than 60 civilians were killed in Syria in a new chemical attack carried out by Assad regime’s air force on the rebel-held Idlib province last week.
Medical sources said that more than 300 other civilians were injured in this attack, and many of them were transferred to hospitals near the Turkish borders or inside Turkey, where poison tests were made.
In a sharp escalation of the U.S. military role in Syria, two U.S. warships fired dozens of cruise missiles from the eastern Mediterranean Sea at the airbase controlled by Assad regime forces from which the attack as carried out.
Trump ordered the strikes just a day after he pointed the finger at Assad for this week’s chemical attack.
“Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.”
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically,” Trump said on Thursday.
Russia condemned the strikes, saying Washington’s action would “inflict major damage on US-Russia ties”, according to Russian news agencies.
Barrel Bombs are the new “red line”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday mentioned barrel bombs alongside poison gas as weapons that were causing “babies and children” to suffer. “If you gas a baby, if you drop a barrel bomb on innocent people … you will see a response from this president,” he said.
However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Assad regime’s warplanes dropped barrel bombs on rebel-held areas of Hama province on Tuesday.
The Observatory said, “a number” of barrel bombs had been dropped on the towns of Taybat al-Imam and Soran north of Hama city in an area where rebel groups, spearheaded by jihadist factions, launched a major offensive last month.
Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said relatively few barrel bombs were dropped. U.N. investigators have recorded regular use of such bombs by government forces in Syria.
A source from Assad regime’s army denied the Observatory report and said the army did not use barrel bombs – drums or cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel that cause indiscriminate destruction on the ground.
The army said it had targeted “terrorist groups in the northern Hama countryside” near Soran, killing “a large number” of militants and destroying weapons including four tanks, artillery, and rocket-launching platforms. It did not say what type of weapons the army had used.
The military source said: “We do not use these barrels and they do not exist in the Syrian Arab Army.”
Army operations were continuing across Syria, and “will not stop”, the sources said.
Sarin traces found
Turkey said on Tuesday that it has “concrete evidence” the nerve agent Sarin was used in a suspected chemical attack in Syria by Assad regime forces a week ago, state media reported.
The World Health Organization said there was a reason to suspect a chemical attack, with some victims displaying symptoms suggesting exposure to “a category of chemicals that includes nerve agents”.
Medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said people it treated had symptoms consistent with nerve agents such as Sarin.
“MSF saw eight patients with symptoms – dilated pupils, muscle spasms, involuntary defecation – consistent with exposure to neuro-toxic agents such as Sarin,” the group said in a statement.
Tests in Turkey, where many of the victims were taken for treatment due to the lack of medical facilities inside Syria, offer the first insight into the actual toxins used in the attack.
The Turkish health minister Recep Akdağ said isopropyl methylphosphonic acid, a chemical that sarin degrades into, was found in the blood and urine samples taken from the patients who arrived in Turkey. Some 30 victims were brought across the border following the attack last Tuesday, and a number of them have died.
Autopsies on victims in Turkey shortly after the attack, monitored by the World Health Organization, had concluded there was evidence of sarin exposure.
The results of the tests in Turkey, if true, will add fuel to accusations by western powers that the Assad regime deployed sarin in one of the most devastating mass casualty chemical attacks in the six-year conflict.
This attack is the deadliest chemical attack in Syria since sarin gas killed hundreds of civilians in the rebel-held Ghouta area near the capital in August 2013. Western states said the Assad regime was responsible for the 2013 attack but it denied the charge.
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.