UN Inspectors in Syria Attacked by... Who?
According to the BBC, an Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspection team was attacked en route to Hama province to investigate reports that Assad’s government had used chlorine gas on civilians.
The OPCW inspectors were trying to reach the rebel-held (emphasis added) village of Kafr Zaita, where there have been six alleged chlorine attacks in two months.
The first report of the attack on their convoy came from the Syrian foreign ministry, which said six inspectors had been "kidnapped" along with their five Syrian drivers.
The state news agency, Sana, quoted a statement as saying that shortly after leaving their government escort on Tuesday morning in the village Tayyiba Imam, a bomb had exploded beside one of the four UN-marked vehicles in the convoy.
The remaining three vehicles then turned around and headed back to Tayyiba Imam, but two were "hijacked by armed terrorist groups" en route, the statement added.
The government and rebel fighters had agreed to a day-long truce to allow the team to examine the area.
It’s hard to tell if this is an instance of government propaganda to divert attention from the alleged chlorine attack or if the rebels and aligned terror groups just shot themselves in the foot attempting to manufacture another “red line” to get increased U.S. and Western support.
Regardless, the allegations of a chlorine attack by Assad’s forces are problematic. Chlorine is considered the granddaddy of chemical weapons, and was first used by the Germans in 1915 at the Second Battle of Ypres. But it was quickly replaced by the more potent agents of phosgene and mustard. In 2007 in Iraq, terrorists set off two trucks full of chlorine, killing two and sickening over 300; not exactly the mass casualty producing agent the attackers hoped for. Syria’s state sponsored program has long been known to possess chemical weapons with hundreds of tons of potent chemicals including sarin and VX nerve agents, and sulfur mustard.
Today, chlorine has been relegated to the toxic industrial chemical of opportunity category; useful for terrorists and insurgents, but not likely used by a nation with a robust CW program. So it’s conceivable that the rebels hoped to prevent the UN team from finding out the truth of who conducted the attack, or if there was any chlorine attack at all. But in Syria, anything is possible, and hopefully the BBC will stay on the story.