Tag Archives: syria

Kushnergate Update: Was It Really All About Syria?

Mother Jones

Here’s an interesting new tidbit on the Jared Kushner front. The New York Times account of Kushnergate says that the reason Kushner wanted to set up backchannel comms to Russia was so that Michael Flynn could hold private conversations about Syria. The Times didn’t characterize their sources for this information, but it turns out it was people providing Kushner’s side of the story. So why didn’t this detail make it into the Washington Post story?

So these sources said Kushner was setting up a channel to talk about Syria, which sounds fairly benign. But they refused to allow themselves to be quoted even as “sources close Kushner” or somesuch. So the Post passed.

Obviously this makes a difference. If the Syria story is Kushner’s alibi, it means a lot less than it would if it came from some relatively neutral source who happened to know what was going on. Discount it accordingly.

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Kushnergate Update: Was It Really All About Syria?

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Today’s Idiocy Roundup

Mother Jones

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There’s so much to learn in the world. A couple of days ago, for example, the Department of Health and Human Services issued this statement regarding CSR subsidies for Obamacare:

The New York Times report is inaccurate. The administration is currently deciding its position on this matter. We have not been contacted by Democrats to help save Obamacare, perhaps because they consider Obamacare to be a losing cause. Democrats need to help solve this failed Obamacare plan.

That sounded really aggressive for an agency statement, and I was a little surprised. How had they picked up the Trump style and rhythm so perfectly? Today I learned the answer via Politico:

Two administration officials said the HHS rebuttal was personally ordered by an incensed Trump, who feared that the Times story hurt his negotiating position. Trump took the unusual step of calling HHS Secretary Tom Price to dictate a blistering statement that challenged the story and swiped at Democrats, one senior administration official said.

Today Trump made his position even clearer. Insurers will most likely pull out of the exchanges or jack up premiums if CSR payments are halted, and Trump said explicitly that he was willing to do this if Democrats didn’t come to the table. I’m not a world-class negotiator or anything, but isn’t it sort of unusual to talk openly about your threat to personally blow up Obamacare unless Dems knuckle under? That makes it hard to subsequently blame Democrats, doesn’t it?

In other news, I’m not the only one who’s been learning new things. A few weeks ago Trump announced that health care was a lot more complicated than he had thought, and today he explained that Chinese President Xi Jinping schooled him on North Korea too:

Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, Mr. Trump said. “After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Mr. Trump recounted. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power” over North Korea,” he said. “But it’s not what you would think.”

This is probably something I would have kept to myself, but maybe that’s wrong. I suppose Trump is setting a good example by showing that you’re never too old to listen and learn.

What else? There was this:

That was quick! Hooray for NATO! However, it’s unclear what produced this change of heart. Was it the influence of H.R. McMaster? The alleged Russian collusion in Syria’s use of chemical weapons? Or did the NSA pick up some sigint of Vladimir Putin mocking Trump?

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal today, Trump also said he’s changed his mind and now supports the Export-Import bank. He’s also thinking about reappointing Janet Yellen as chair of the Fed. And this:

Asked how he has changed since taking office, the former businessman—who as a candidate touted his ability to cut deals—said: “The magnitude of everything is so big, and also the decisions are so big. You know, you’re talking about life and death. You’re not talking about ‘you’re going to make a good deal.’”

Huh. The presidency isn’t just about making good deals. Since that was basically Trump’s sole alleged qualification for the office, I wonder what role he now thinks he’s going to play?

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Today’s Idiocy Roundup

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Trump Floats Nonsense Idea of Privatizing Airports and Dams

Mother Jones

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Philip Howard attended Tuesday’s infrastructure confab with President Trump. The Guardian reports on what he told them:

Donald Trump is considering privatising America’s airports and dams as part of an infrastructure building programme that could exceed past estimates of a trillion dollars….“America can do much more than it has, and can do what other countries in Europe and Australia have done, by harnessing private capital,” Howard said. “So it could privatise a number of assets such as airports and dams, and get a lot of capital from that, as well as increase the tax base.”

Hundreds of airports around the world have been privatised or partly privatised but, Howard noted, virtually none in America….Last year the Cato Institute, a conservative thinktank, published a paper that endorsed privatising the nation’s more than 500 commercial airports, which are currently owned by state and local governments and rely on the federal government for capital improvements.

Is Trump really thinking about this? Who knows. But I’m a little mystified. The federal government can’t privatize airports that are owned by states and cities. And even if it could, states and cities would get the money. So what’s the point?

I’d say Trump had four big domestic priorities when he took office:

Repeal Obamacare.
Cut taxes for the rich.
Spend $1 trillion fixing roads and bridges.
Build a wall.

The Obamacare effort has already crashed and burned. His tax plan apparently won’t work with Obamacare in place, so now he’s delaying that to take another run at health care. He doesn’t have anywhere near enough support for his infrastructure plan, which is why he’s desperately scanning the horizon for weird ideas to fund it. And the wall hasn’t gone anywhere yet. It may yet make progress, but even Trump admits it won’t cover anything close to the whole border.

On foreign policy, he’s crashed and burned on his immigration plan; reversed himself on Russia; launched a strike on Syria with no apparent follow-up plan; still has no proposal for defeating ISIS; caved in to China on Taiwan; and has gone soft on trade.

So what has he done? He’s signed a few bills reversing some Obama executive orders, but that’s about over since the easy stuff has an early May deadline. He produced a kinda-sorta budget, which was even deader on arrival than most presidential budgets. He managed to pick a name off a list and nominate him to the Supreme Court, something he apparently considers a helluva hard day’s work. Beyond that, he’s tweeted, convened some “listening sessions,” held a couple of rallies, watched uncounted hours of TV, played lots of golf, and generally developed a reputation as the laziest president in anyone’s memory. Is there anything important I’m missing here?

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Trump Floats Nonsense Idea of Privatizing Airports and Dams

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Trump Brags About Eating the "Most Beautiful" Chocolate Cake During Syrian Missile Strike Decision

Mother Jones

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Recounting details about his decision to launch missile strikes on a Syrian air base last week, President Donald Trump took several moments during a Fox Business interview that aired Wednesday morning to enthuse about the “most beautiful” chocolate cake he enjoyed at his Palm Beach resort with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump was entertaining the Chinese leader at Mar-a-Lago when he ordered the military strike.

“I was sitting at the table, we had finished dinner,” Trump told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. “We’re now having dessert—and we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen—and President Xi was enjoying it.”

Bartiromo then said it was “brilliant” that the missiles were “unmanned.”

“It’s so incredible. It’s brilliant,” Trump agreed.

Then Trump appeared to momentarily forget which country the United States had attacked last week, naming Iraq instead of Syria.

“So what happens is I said, ‘We’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq, and I wanted you to know this,'” Trump said in the interview. “And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.”

“Syria?” Bartiromo corrected.

“Yes, heading toward Syria,” Trump said. He followed up by mentioning Xi finished his dessert.

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Trump Brags About Eating the "Most Beautiful" Chocolate Cake During Syrian Missile Strike Decision

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Quote of the Day: Trump Needs Ivanka Around to Keep Him From Being Too Dickish

Mother Jones

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Sean Spicer put his foot in it today over Syria. You can google the details if you want, but basically he used the words Hitler and gas in the same sentence, and you just know that’s not going to end well.

Instead, let’s turn to the next generation of Trumps:

Eric Trump has said he is “sure” his sister Ivanka used her influence over their father to encourage the US president to launch military action against Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

….“A lot of times people will say yes just because you happen to be the boss,” he explained at the Trump Turnberry golf resort in Ayrshire. “I think the beautiful thing about family is you play on a little bit of a different dynamic and once in a while you can pull them aside and say: ‘No disrespect but you might want to think about this or maybe you crossed the line here.’

“I think it gives you a sounding board who is a little bit more unconventional than the 37 people that might happen to be standing round a table at that one time who just want to appease.

I’m sure Trump’s staff will be delighted to hear themselves described this way.

And I’m pretty sure Eric is wrong anyway. First off, my guess is that virtually everyone in and out of the West Wing was in favor of bombing Syria. Hell, even most Democrats were in favor of bombing Syria. I very much doubt that Ivanka’s deep maternal instincts (“Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence”) made her a unique moral influence in this case.

Second, those 37 people Eric talks about aren’t “appeasing” his dad. They’re mostly very clever, very experienced people who are manipulating his dad. They do this because that’s what people in the West Wing always do, and they have an easier time of it than most because Donald Trump is so childishly easy to manipulate. We all saw Hillary Clinton do it in the debates, practically sending up semaphore flags as she baited him, and you could tell that even Trump understood what she was doing. But he responded exactly as she wanted him to anyway. It was pretty astonishing to watch. Too bad about that whole James Comey thing.

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Quote of the Day: Trump Needs Ivanka Around to Keep Him From Being Too Dickish

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Sean Spicer: Hitler "Didn’t Even Sink to Using Chemical Weapons"

Mother Jones

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White House press secretary Sean Spicer attempted to compare Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad to Adolf Hitler on Tuesday, arguing—incorrectly—that unlike Assad, Hitler never used chemical weapons during World War II. When a reporter gave Spicer a chance to clarify his remarks, Spicer followed up with an explanation that was arguably even more problematic.

“You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said in response to a question about Russia’s ongoing support for the Assad regime.

When a reporter asked Spicer what he meant by this comment, Spicer explained that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.” Apparently referring to Nazi death camps, Spicer acknowledged that Hitler “brought them into the Holocaust Center, I understand that.”

Reporters and pundits on Twitter quickly pointed out that Hitler justified the Holocaust in part by claiming that German Jews were not really Germans.

Nearly 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust from systemic murder that included the use of gas and shooting, as well as starvation and disease. This included between 160,000 to 180,000 German Jews. The Third Reich also targeted non-Jewish Germans it deemed “unworthy of life,” including people with mental and physical disabilities. These were among the first victim’s of Hitler’s use of poison gas beginning in 1939.

On MSNBC, the chyron fact-checking Spicer’s comments was particularly stunning.

After his briefing, Spicer sent out a second clarification, followed by a third:

And then a fourth:


Sean Spicer: Hitler "Didn’t Even Sink to Using Chemical Weapons"

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Trump Suddenly Committed to Ousting Assad From Power

Mother Jones

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The folks at Webster’s might be unhappy about this, but WTF seems like a lock for Word-of-the-Year honors in 2017. Today, the Trump administration is apparently promising regime change in Syria and hoping that Vladimir Putin will help them:

Before departing Italy — where he met with “like-minded” allies in the Group of Seven major advanced economies and diplomats from largely Muslim nations — Rex Tillerson told reporters that the United States is aiming for a negotiated end to six years of conflict in Syria and wants Russia’s help in ushering Assad out of office….Claiming that Assad’s rule “is coming to an end,” Tillerson previewed his message to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

….In a sign of escalating tensions — even before Tillerson exited his plane in Moscow — Putin told a news conference the Kremlin has “information” that provocateurs are planning to plant chemical substances in suburban Damascus and blame it on Syrian authorities. He gave no further details on the stunning claim.


Does anyone here know how to play this game? A week ago Donald Trump didn’t give two fucks whether Assad stayed in power. He had somehow missed the news of Assad’s brutality over the past six years, and cared only about ISIS. Now he’s suddenly figured out that Assad is a monster and is promising regime change. Sure, he’s “aiming” for a negotiated settlement, but that’s pretty plainly not in the cards since Assad, after six brutal years of civil war, is finally on the verge of winning.

And Putin, informed of all this, responds with a Trumplike conspiracy theory about false-flag operations. These are not the words of a man who plans to back down. I’ve read reports that Putin is privately enraged at Assad, and that may be, but there’s really not much room for doubt about the positions of both Assad and Putin here. Neither one has the slightest intention of abruptly giving up and allowing American-sponsored rebels to take over in Damascus.

So what happens next? Putin or one of his functionaries will tell Tillerson to bugger off, and there will be no negotiations. Does Trump start bombing Damascus? That would be stupid and wouldn’t work anyway. Does he send a huge American ground force? There’s zero chance of public or congressional approval for that. Does he just back down? Trump seems temperamentally incapable of this.

And yet, the US government is now officially committed to regime change in Syria even though it wasn’t last week. In fairness, so was Obama. But Obama was always clear that this was merely aspirational. Trump hasn’t said one way or another, and he’s avoiding the press, which would like to hear a little more about his new foreign policy. The problem, it appears, is that Trump doesn’t know what his foreign policy is. He doesn’t know what to do about ISIS. He doesn’t know what to do about Afghanistan. He doesn’t know what to do about China. He doesn’t know what to do about Syria. He doesn’t know what to do about North Korea. He only knows how to send tweets into the atmosphere about how all these folks better watch out because there’s a new sheriff in town. But there’s nothing more. Trump has taken strategic ambiguity to whole new levels.

Personally, I guess I’m rooting for the meaningless Twitter rants to continue. It’s better than the alternative.

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Trump Suddenly Committed to Ousting Assad From Power

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Trump Still Wants to Keep Syria’s "Beautiful Babies" Out of the US

Mother Jones

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The graphic images of the youngest victims of the recent sarin attack on Khan Sheikoun, Syria, apparently prompted President Donald Trump to have a change of heart about the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me—big impact,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday. “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.” In a statement last night, after he gave orders to strike the Syrian air base from which the chemical weapon attack originated, Trump said, “Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.”

Yet the Trump who fired 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria out of professed humanitarian concerns is the same one who not so long ago insisted he could look Syrian children “in the face and say, ‘You can’t come here.'” A week into his presidency, he signed an executive order that would indefinitely ban Syrians, even beautiful babies, from seeking refuge in the United States.

The irony of Trump’s sudden flare-up of compassion is not lost on the human rights advocates who have been pushing back against Trump’s attempt to shut out Syrians. “This would be a great opportunity for the president to reconsider his previous statements and to think about the fact that these refugees are fleeing precisely the type of violence we are seeing this week in Syria,” says Jennifer Sime, a senior vice president of the International Rescue Committee‘s United States programs. Trump’s newfound humanitarian concerns, Sime says, provides an opportunity “to reconsider the travel ban, to reconsider the cap on the total number of refugees who can enter this country, to reconsider the suspension on refugee resettlement in the United States, and to make our country again a welcoming country for refugees.”

A statement from the International Refugee Assistance Project following the missile strikes took a similar tone. “Rather than pay lip service to the plight of innocent Syrian children, President Trump should provide actual solutions for the children who have been languishing in refugee camps for years,” it reads. “Many refugee children have been left in life or death situations following the President’s executive order, which suspends and severely curtails the U.S. resettlement program.”

Trump has repeatedly called for the “extreme vetting” of refugees and has suggested that some, including a Syrian family with young children, might be ISIS sleepers. Kirk W. Johnson, a former United States Agency for International Development worker who has led an effort to resettle Iraqis in the United States, told Mother Jones in January that Trump’s refugee ban “reads as though 9/11 happened yesterday, and that 9/11 was carried out by refugees, which it wasn’t, and it creates a series of policy prescriptions to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, as if the stringent measures that have been put in place over the past 15 years to screen refugees don’t exist.”

After the 2013 attack in eastern Ghouta, in which the Syrian government killed more than 1,000 people with chemical weapons, Trump penned dozens of tweets imploring President Barack Obama to do nothing. “President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside,” read one. “Save your ‘powder’ for another (and more important) day!” Despite the fact that the Assad government has been responsible for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties in the Syrian civil war, Trump previously excused its brutality by arguing that while it was bad, it was also “killing ISIS.”

If Trump’s strike on Syria was intended to curtail Assad’s ability to launch more attacks on civilians, it does not seem to have worked. An American official told ABC News that 20 Syrian aircraft were destroyed in Thursday’s strike on the Shaayrat airbase, but the runway was left untouched. Syrian warplanes have already resumed using the base to launch air strikes on rebel-held areas.

More than six years since the conflict in Syria began, nearly a half million people are dead, 6.3 million are displaced inside the country, and 4.8 million refugees have sought safety in neighboring countries. “These people didn’t flee because they wanted a change in scenery,” says Sime. “They fled because of the extreme violence, and the United States, along with other countries in the international community, should open their doors to provide refuge to these people who have been through these terrible circumstances.”

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Trump Still Wants to Keep Syria’s "Beautiful Babies" Out of the US

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Donald Trump Remains Puzzled About West Wing Chaos

Mother Jones

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It’s time for the latest Donald Trump pivot. The Wall Street Journal reports that the crisis in Syria “has sharpened Mr. Trump’s desire to cut some of the drama out of his West Wing.” He’s finally going to get presidential!

President Donald Trump is considering a major shake-up of his senior White House team, a senior administration official said Friday….In recent days, he has talked to confidants about the performance of chief of staff Reince Priebus and has asked for the names of possible replacements….Another top aide who could be removed or reassigned in a shake-up is Steve Bannon, chief strategist, who has been sparring with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisers.

In fairness, Trump can’t fire himself, but is he really so clueless that he doesn’t realize the infighting springs directly from his own chaotic personality, not from the folks around him? If he provided clear direction on both policy and communications—and stopped tweeting random crap all the time—things would calm down fast.

But he’ll never figure that out.

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Donald Trump Remains Puzzled About West Wing Chaos

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This Week’s Chemical Attack in Syria is Just the Latest "Red Line"

Mother Jones

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On July 23, 2012, a former spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry acknowledged for the first time that his government had stockpiles of chemical weapons, but asserted that they would “never, never be used against the Syrian people or civilians during this crisis, under any circumstances.” A little more than a year later, approximately 1,400 people on the outskirts of Damascus were killed in a chemical attack carried out by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. It was the largest chemical weapons attack since Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds in Halabja, Iraq, 25 years earlier. Now, as the Syrian civil war enters its sixth year, chemical weapon attacks on civilians continue apace.

Yesterday, disturbing photos and videos (warning: they’re graphic) started coming out of the town of Khan Sheikoun in rebel-held Idlib Province: children in spasms, foaming at their mouths, gasping for breath, and lying motionless as parents cry over them and rescue teams attempt to wash chemical agents from their bodies. According to the Syrian American Medical Society and various monitoring groups, barrel bombs were dropped on civilian areas, reportedly killing at least 74 people, including at least 11 children, and injuring hundreds more. The bombs contained toxic chemical agents, likely including sarin—a liquid nerve agent that often causes death by asphyxia.

After the attack, the White House pinned the blame on the Obama administration’s “weakness and irresolution.” This morning, President Donald Trump, who previously excused Assad’s crimes by highlighting that his regime was also fighting ISIS, said that the attack “crosses many lines, beyond a red line, many many lines,” possibly signaling a change in attitude toward Syria and Assad. (Just days before the attack, Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, stated that the administration does not consider removing Assad from power a priority, echoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said last week that Assad’s future “will be decided by the Syrian people.”)

Yesterday’s attack was the latest in a long string of chemical attacks against Syrian civilians. Here’s a brief timeline of how we got here.

August 20, 2012

President Barack Obama says that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “red line” and would “change my calculus” for a military response in Syria.

December 23, 2012

The first allegations of chemical weapon use in Syria are reported. Seven people in Homs are allegedly killed by “poisonous gas” used by the Assad regime. Later, a leaked State Department cable stated that there was credible evidence that the government used a chemical weapon known as Agent 15 in the attack.

March 12, 2013

After France and the United Kingdom send letters urging an investigation into three alleged uses of chemical weapons in Syria, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announces that the UN would investigate. Within a month, opposition activists and observers allege that the Assad regime has carried out two more chemical weapons attacks. Ban states that Syria has impeded in the investigations.

August 21, 2013

More than 1,000 people are killed in a large chemical weapon attack on the outskirts of Damascus. A UN investigation concludes that ground-to-ground rockets delivered the nerve agent sarin, and the evidence suggests the government was behind the assault. The United States later issues a report blaming the Syrian government.

August 31, 2013

President Obama says he will seek congressional authorization for the use of force against Syria: “I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.” Congress never votes on it, and the measure is shelved after then-Secretary of State John Kerry remarks that Assad can avoid military strikes if he turns over his chemical weapons stockpile.

September 27, 2013

The United Nations Security Council orders the Syrian government to destroy all of its chemical weapons stockpiles by 2014, threatening to authorize the use of force if it doesn’t comply.

June 23, 2014

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announces that all remaining chemical weapons have been shipped out of Syria for disposal. Yet it is widely suspected that not all of Syria’s chemical weapons were removed.

September 10, 2014

A OPCW fact-finding mission concludes that chlorine gas is being used as a weapon in Syria. Chlorine, a choking agent which fills the lungs with liquid, was not among the chemicals that had to be destroyed under the UN agreement. But it is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention.

August 7, 2015

The UN Security Council authorizes OPCW and UN investigators to determine who was behind chlorine gas attacks on civilians in rebel-held areas.

August 10, 2016

For the third time in two weeks, chlorine gas is reportedly used against civilians in northern Syria, killing at least 4 people and wounding 60 more. Experts warn that the abundance of chemical weapons attacks may normalize war crimes.

August 24, 2016

The OPCW-UN joint investigation report concludes that the Syrian government was responsible for deploying chlorine gas on two separate occasions on civilian areas in rebel-held northern Idlib Province.

April 4, 2017

More than 70 people, including many children, are killed in a suspected sarin attack in Idlib. The Syrian government is believed to be behind the attack. A day after the attack, Khan Sheikoun’s main medical clinic was directly hit by an airstrike.

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This Week’s Chemical Attack in Syria is Just the Latest "Red Line"

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