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Sunday, April 13, 2014

After Hersh lays smoke screen, Assad lobes gas bombs

The Blogosphere is a Battlefield

Karl Marx famously quoted Carl von Clausewitz to the effect that war is the continuation of politics by other means. It should also be said that propaganda in times of armed conflict is war by other means. Even though the strength of the contending armed bodies is critical in war, their propaganda efforts among their own forces, against the enemy forces, and towards international observers, play an extremely important role as well. That is why I say the blogosphere is a battlefield. Certainly Assad understands that, and so does Putin. They both see the value of creating and promoting a narrative designed to justify their aggression. They both see the value of demonizing their opposition, creating smoke screens, muddying waters, and creating distractions. Today, to a large extent, these goals are accomplished with the help of the Internet, and they both have created sophisticated machinery and spent a lot of money on political support for the Assad regime.

Sy Hersh goes on the warpath again ahead of new regime attacks

Seemingly out of the blue, Bashar al-Assad's most prominent defender came out with a new 5,000 word essay again attempting to absolve the Assad regime for past chemical attacks. Even though the muzzled UN came as close as allowed to putting the blame on the regime when it said that the sarin used in both Ghouta and Khan Al-Assal came from the Assad arsenal and was used by a large chemical weapons component of a professional army, Seymour Hersh's rehash of the old arguments put forth again on 8 April 2014 in the London Review of Books, reopened a discussion that many had thought settled.

His piece became like a call to action for Assad supporters everywhere to renew the claims that Assad didn't do it, repeat all the Fall conspiracy theories, and try to build unity among the conflicting versions. For example, Mint Press came out in support of Hersh, in spite of the fact that they had been supporting a version of how the rebels gassed themselves that involved untrained rebels in a tunnel bungling a big tank of sarin given to them by Saudi Prince Bandar. Hersh's current version has the Turks ramroding al Nursa, and using missiles, no Bandar, no tank, no tunnel. But nevermind about that, these Assad supporters are flexible, the main point is that Assad didn't do it and the rebels did. That is why all those that had formerly promoted a version that had the CIA and/or Qatar masterminding the chemical attacks were as quick as Mint Press to jump on the Hersh campaign bus.

As a result, just when the UN's 5 March report had done so much to clear the air and settle the question of responsibility, at least for the two most deadly sarin attacks, Hersh comes along, completely ignores the UN report, and leads the charge in another smoke and mirrors attack with his pro-Assad LRP propaganda bomb and they have been successful in raising a lot of dust and confusion.

Many of us on the other side of this battle in the blogosphere have been writing tooth and nail to discredit this latest Sy Hersh piece as well as his whole Assad-didn't-do-it thesis, but he is like a giant of journalism while we are the Lilliputians. He dismisses us as bloogers. We are working hard to clear the air, but every time the Hersh piece is reprinted or regurgitated, it is like another smoke grenade going off.

Now we know why this propaganda war is so important, because in the past few days the reports have been coming in that Assad is again killing with poison gas, now the laying of smoke before these operations makes strategic sense.

Was the timing of these new chemical weapons attacks, less than a week after the publication of the latest Sy Hersh defense of Assad, a coincidence, an opportunistic move on the part of Assad or was it part of a plan?

Below are some of the latest pieces on the chemical attacks:

From Associated Press:
Poison gas claims complicate Syrian civil war

By Bassem Mroue
April 12, 2014
BEIRUT — Both sides in Syria's bloody civil war said Saturday that a rural village fell victim to a poison gas attack, an assault that reportedly injured scores of people amid an ongoing international effort to rid the country of chemical weapons.

What exactly happened Friday in Kfar Zeita, a rebel-held village in Hama province some 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Damascus, remains unclear and likely won't be known for some time. It took United Nations weapons inspectors months to say it was likely some chemical weapons attacks happened last year, including an August attack that killed hundreds and nearly sparked Western airstrikes against President Bashar Assad's forces.

But online videos posted by rebel activists from Kfar Zeita echoed earlier images that sparked a world outcry, showing pale-faced men, women and children gasping for breath at a field hospital. They suggest an affliction by some kind of poison — and yet another clouded incident where both sides blame each other in a conflict that activists say has killed more than 150,000 people with no end in sight.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said the poison gas attack hurt dozens of people, though it did not identify the gas used.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that relies on a network of on-the-ground volunteers, said the gas attack happened during air raids that left heavy smoke over the area. It reported that people suffered from suffocation and breathing problems after the attack, but gave no further details.

State-run Syrian television blamed members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front rebel group for the attack, saying they used chlorine gas to kill two people and injure more than 100. It did not say how it confirmed chlorine was used.

Chlorine, one of the most commonly manufactured chemicals in the U.S., is used to purify drinking water. But as a gas, it can be deadly, with the German army using it in warfare in World War I. The Geneva Protocol of 1925, which Syria signed, banned its use in battle. More...
From EA WorldView:
Regime Uses Chlorine Gas on Kafrzita in Hama Province

By Scott Lucas
April 13, 2014 12:16
On Saturday, we compiled videos of a claimed chemical attack on Kafrzita in Hama Province, probably from this airstrike and its “yellow-tinged cloud”

See “Poison Gas” Attacks Near Damascus & in Hama Province
To our surprise, Syrian State media admitted the attack, although they claimed — despite the airstrike — that it was the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra Front who was responsible, using chlorine gas that killed two people and injured more than 100.

Now Eliot Higgins, on his Brown Moses blog, puts together audio-visual and photographic evidence. His conclusion is that, even as the Assad regime claims it is shipping out its chemical weapons for destruction, only the Syrian military could have carried out Friday’s attack with “poison gas”. More...
From Syria Deeply:
Week in Review: Amid New Chemical Attacks and Battlefield Shifts, Assad Looks Ahead

April 13th, 2014
by Lara Setrakian
Even by Syrian war standards, this was a brutal week.

By the end of it, reports had surfaced of a poison gas attack in the central Syrian town of Kafr Zeita. One hundred people were left sick from exposure; the Syrian regime and rebel forces blamed each other for the incident. In weeks past,Syrian doctors told us of repeated small-scale chemical attacks around Damascus – a signal that the chemical destruction plan brokered by the U.S. and Russia last year hasn’t stopped the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield.

Then there are the more conventional forms of destruction, which seem to be accelerating in pace. On Wednesday two car bombs struck an Alawite neighborhood of Homs, killing at least 25 people. \Rebels are advancing on government-held areas of Aleppo, Al Jazeera reports, while the Los Angeles Times profiled the practically apocalyptic scenes of life for Aleppines, struggling to get by in a once-prosperous city. More...
From BBCNews:
Claims of new poison gas attack in Syria

12 April 2014
The government and opposition forces in Syria have accused each other of using poison gas in an attack on a village on Friday.

State TV said the jihadist Nusra Front group launched the attack on Kafr Zita in Hama province, killing two people and injuring dozens of others.

But opposition groups quoted doctors as saying that an attack by regime planes led to suffocation and poisoning.

There was no independent verification of either of the claims.

"Regime planes bombed Kafr Zita with explosive barrels that produced thick smoke and odours and led to cases of suffocation and poisoning," said Rami Abdel Rahman, from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. More...
From The New York Times:
Damascus and Rebels Trade Blame in Gas Attack

12 April 2014
By Anne Barnard and Ben Hubbard
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian state television and antigovernment activists reported Saturday that poison gas had been used in a rebel-held village in the central province of Hama, with each side blaming its enemies for an attack they both said sickened more than 100 people.

The attack took place Friday evening in the village of Kfar Zeita, sending streams of choking patients, including children, to poorly equipped field hospitals, according to local medics and videos posted online. Opposition activists said government helicopters had dropped improvised bombs on the village, covering it with a thick smoke that smelled of chlorine.

While the opposition reported the attack soon after it happened, Syrian state television first mentioned it the day after in an urgent news banner during a broadcast. It blamed the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, for the attack, adding that two people were killed and more than 100 others affected by the gas. A subsequent banner announcement said the Nusra Front was preparing two more chemical attacks. It was the first time since last year that both sides agreed that toxic weapons had been used. More...
From Brown Moses Blog:
Evidence Chlorine Gas Was Used In A Second, Failed, Chemical Attack On Kafr Zita
Sunday, 13 April 2014
On April 11th, reports supported by video from the town of Kafr Zita, Hama, claimed to show the aftermath of a chemical attack on the town.  Reports claimed helicopters had dropped a "barrel bomb" containing a toxic gas on the town, with the below video claiming to show the attack as it happened. More...

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