‘Syria gases own people just as Trump mulls withdrawal?’ Journalists question Douma ‘chem attack’

‘Syria gases own people just as Trump mulls withdrawal?’ Journalists question Douma ‘chem attack’
Not everybody is buying into reports of a chemical attack by Syria’s government in Douma, with online critics saying the claims conveniently coincide with Donald Trump's plans to leave Syria and the withdrawal of Ghouta militants.

Anti-government activists, including the notorious White Helmets civil defense group, on Saturday blamed the Syrian authorities of using chemical weapons in the militant-held town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, saying that dozens of civilians were killed and hundreds affected.

The claims have renewed calls for a Syria intervention by the West, while Damascus said they were a "fabrication" and Russia's Foreign Ministry on Sunday called them "fake news."

While a media storm immediately followed, accusing Syria's Bashar Assad of heinous crimes and predicting a new US strike against Damascus forces in response, journalists with knowledge of events on the ground in Syria wondered aloud if the claims should be treated with a grain of salt.

Independent journalist Vanessa Beeley, who visited the Syrian frontline on numerous occasions, said the chemical attack report, quickly picked up by mainstream media, was "also 100 percent lie," pointing out that the White Helmets group had been caught producing fakes before. 

The timing of the alleged chemical attack claims was questioned by journalist Caitlin Johnstone, who pointed out that reports spread "just as Trump was seeking a withdrawal from Syria and just as [Syrian President Bashar] Assad was approaching victory in Douma."

In her article on the Medium website, Johnstone doubted the credibility of the White Helmets as a source, due to their "extremely suspicious western funding and terrorist ties", also reminding readers of the Western governments' "extensive history of using lies, propaganda and false flags to manufacture support for military aggression."

The chemical attack on his own people, certain to "provoke the wrath of the US war machine," would mean that "Assad spontaneously began acting against his own self-interest," the journalist wrote. She decried the influence of the mainstream media, which she said makes such news "easier to believe that Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin are deliberately killing civilians with poisonous gas for no reason whatsoever than to believe that the same empire which deceived us into Iraq is deceiving us into Iraq's next-door neighbor Syria."

US journalist Rania Khalek said that the timing of the alleged attack was "crazy" because it has emerged when the Syrian government was in its strongest position during the whole conflict and Trump said he wanted US troops out of the country.

"Odd how every time Trump suggests he might leave Syria or back off, Assad (who would love the US out) suddenly inexplicably uses chemical weapons and screws himself. How convenient for the players who are desperate to get the US more deeply involved," freelance journalist Danielle Ryan tweeted

Other commentators online also argued that the reports of a chemical attack were actually aimed at dragging the US deeper into the Syrian conflict. 

Some pointed out that Russia and Syria have recently warned the international community of possible false flag chemical attacks in the wake of the Syrian Army gains.

American journalist and writer Mike Cernovich pointed out that President Assad had absolutely no motivation to use chemical weapons against his own people. "It makes total sense for Assad to gas children right as Trump announces a troop withdrawal. It's the only sane, rational decision to make," he tweeted, sarcastically.

At the same time, Cernovich believes that the escalation of the Syrian conflict and prolonged US stay in the country may even reconcile the Republicans and Democrats. 

"War is good for the ruling party facing mid-term elections, which is one reason the war mongering Democrats might not support Trump's leading a ground war in Syria. But their blood lust is strong, and may overcome their desire to sweep the House," he wrote.

Following the chemical attack reports, US President Donald Trump, who said on Tuesday that he wanted to "get out" of Syria, called Assad an "Animal," adding that "President Putin, Russia and Iran" were responsible, as backers of the Syrian authorities. 

READ MORE: Syria’s East Ghouta militants hold civilians hostage, plan ‘chemical’ provocations – Russian MoD

Syrian state media, meanwhile, reported on Sunday that Jaysh al-Islam militants, who were holed up in Douma, have agreed a deal with the Syrian government, according to which they will be allowed to leave the town in exchange for releasing the prisoners they were holding.

On April 4, 2017, a major chemical attack was similarly reported in Syria, just several days after then US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and UN envoy, Nikki Haley, said that "getting Assad out" was no longer Washington's priority. Back then, the White Helmets and other activist groups claimed that up to 100 civilians in the town of Khan Shaykhun in the Idlib Governorate were killed by sarin gas, released in an airstrike by Syrian government forces. The US immediately rushed to blame Damascus for the attack and fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airbase, claiming it was the very compound from which jets, allegedly armed with the chemical, took off.

READ MORE: 40 tons of chemical weapons left by militants found in Syria – Russian MoD

Syria, which was confirmed to have destroyed its sarin stockpiles under a deal brokered between Russia and the US in 2013, has denied the accusations. Russia also pointed out that thorough, impartial investigation of the incident never took place, with OPCW experts refusing to visit Khan Shaykhun. Moscow also argued that the whole attack could have been staged.

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