A convoy of UN weapons inspectors travel through Damascus, Syria today, where they received sniper fire in attempting to investigate last week's chemical weapons attacks. (Source: Reuters)
The Syrian Civil War took a devastating turn last week when several districts in Damascus were hit by suspected chemical weapons, killing hundreds. The Syrian regime, led by Bashar al-Assad, blamed rebel forces for firing chemical weapons—the rebels claim the opposite—and has accepted United Nations weapons inspectors to investigate the site of the recent attack. However, just as inspections were about to begin, the convoy of inspectors came under sniper fire, forcing them to flee briefly from the scene, Reuters reported on Monday.
The attack on the UN convoy occurred just as they had left their hotel in central Damascus. The inspectors were hit from multiple points by unidentified snipers, with one car being hit multiple times. The convoy hurried back to the hotel, where they stayed put before venturing out again into the city, where they were able to successfully investigate a few sites and talk to survivors and medical personnel before returning to the hotel.
The chemical attacks, which happened in the outlying neighborhoods of Damascus, came early on the morning of August 21 while the area was subject to a siege by Syrian Army forces with backing from Hezbollah. All of these areas happened to be conflict zones during the recent Battle of Damascus. Due to the timing of the shelling, many died in their sleep.
The Syrian regime immediately claimed the snipers attacking the UN inspectors' convoy were representing rebel forces under the Free Syrian Army, who are the dominant rebel force in the area. Representatives for the rebels have yet to comment on the matter. That both forces have relied on rooftop snipers means that it will be hard to say who is actually responsible for the attack. The rebels have much more to lose if it is discovered that they fired chemical weapons, the Syrian regime is a much more credible suspect than the rebels, since Assad has stockpiles of chemical weapons on hand.
In either case, both sides' supporters are backing them, with Syrian ally Russia emphasizing that any Western intervention would be a violation of UN law, while the American government have declared that the attacks represent the "red line" they established almost exactly one year ago.