The Trump administration released declassified intelligence Tuesday that unequivocally concludes that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out the sarin gas attack on a town in Syria’s Idlib province that killed 87 people. The Washington Post reported that the intelligence “included signals and aerial intelligence — combined with local reporting and samples taken from victims of the attack — that showed a Russian-made, Syrian-piloted SU-22 aircraft dropped at least one munition carrying the nerve agent sarin.”
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said, “I have personally reviewed the intelligence, and there is no doubt the Syrian regime is responsible for the decision to attack and for the attack itself.” He added that the Syrian regime would pay a “very, very, very stiff price” should they attack with chemical weapons again. At a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that “the attack was planned and carried out by the regime forces at the direction of Bashar al-Assad.”
In a statement released Monday, Mattis declared that the American strike on the Syrian Shayrat airbase last week, launched in response to the chemical weapons attack, “resulted in the damage or destruction of fuel and ammunition sites, air defense capabilities, and 20 percent of Syria’s operational aircraft. The Syrian government has lost the ability to refuel or rearm aircraft at Shayrat airfield and at this point, use of the runway is of idle military interest. The Syrian government would be ill-advised ever again to use chemical weapons."
Siding with a murderous criminal--
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley took Russia and Iran to task for their support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday.
Before voting at the United Nations Security Council on a resolution condemning the Syrian regime for the gas attack it launched on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province, which killed 87 people, Haley said, "To my colleagues from Russia - you are isolating yourselves from the international community every time one of Assad's planes drop another barrel bomb on civilians and every time Assad tries to starve another community to death.” Indeed, the resolution failed because Russia cast a veto, the eighth time it has done so in favor of the Assad regime since the beginning of the war in Syria.
Haley condemned Iran for being “Assad’s chief accomplice in the regime's horrific acts.” She continued, "Iran is dumping fuel on the flames of this war in Syria so it can expand its own reach." Her colleague, British Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft, said that samples from Khan Sheikhoun have tested positive for the presence of sarin and accused Russia for allying itself with “a murderous, barbaric criminal, rather than with their international peers.”
The White House has accused Russia of trying to cover up the chemical weapons attack on behalf of the Syrian regime.
A record of horrific slaughter--
On the night of April 6, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump signaled a radical shift in America’s policy towards the six year-old Syrian civil war by ordering multiple airstrikes against the Al Shayrat airbase near the city of Homs. Two days earlier, the airfield had been used by Bashar al Assad’s regime to launch a horrifying chemical weapons strike against the town of Khan Sheikhnoun, in which more than 80 people were murdered and hundreds more severely wounded. Reportedly, the nerve agent used in that attack was sarin – giving the lie to former Secretary of State John Kerry’s confident assertion, on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ in July 2014: “With respect to Syria, we struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.”
Whether Trump’s gambit will lead to the removal of Assad remains an open question. The stakes are certainly high, since the American airstrikes were not just a blow against Assad himself, but against his Russian and Iranian allies – the two outside powers that had secured, so went the conventional wisdom, his long-term survival through the brutal conquest of the northern city of Aleppo in December 2016. Five months on, the tyrant looks decidedly more insecure, now that he is in the sights of the world’s most powerful military.
The choice of Al Shayrat as the target for the Tomahawk missile strikes dramatically highlights the regional and global dimensions of the Syrian conflict. Russian military personnel are based there, as part of the extensive military aid which Moscow provides to Assad – they received advance warning from the Pentagon that the strikes were imminent. The base has also served officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Assad’s principle backer, and the shock troops of Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese Shiite proxy. Geographically, the airbase lies in the portion of south-western Syria, extending into Lebanon, under the control of Hezbollah and the IRGC.
Al Shayrat also highlights a too-often ignored aspect of this war, and the focus of this article: that Iran and Hezbollah have carried out grave war crimes and crimes against humanity – strongly resembling the crimes committed by the terrorists of the Sunni ISIS – against the Syrian people on Assad’s behalf. These took place, as we document here, not only in Aleppo and its environs, but in locations like Homs City and Tel Kalakh – with Al Shayrat serving as a launchpad for the attacks.
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The upper parking lot of the Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv is a concrete maze of cars. There is also a hothouse up here with the freshest green vegetables you’ve ever seen. While gardening on the roof of an urban parking garage may seem absurd, Yarok Ba’ir (Green in the City) is serving city dwellers – and restaurants within a 2-kilometer radius — straight-from-the-farm veggies. Green in the City is a joint venture between LivinGreen, a company that pioneers hydroponic and aquaponic solutions, and the Dizengoff Center, opened in the 1970s as Israel’s first shopping mall. “The main goal of Green in the City is to bring agriculture to the middle of the city, to be able to grow food right in the heart of the city,” Yoav Sharon, co-manager of Green in the City, says. “People can come here and buy their products, so that trucks don’t have to come into the city to deliver products to restaurants. You see buildings, cars, pollution and then here’s a nice green garden in the middle.” The first commercial farm in Tel Aviv consists of a hothouse and areas for workshops where local residents can learn how to build urban mini farms at home or school. (via Israel21c)