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Tuesday 13 March 2018

Syria Comes to Salisbury

By Clara Connolly

The recent nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil has caused outrage in Parliament, and has prompted speculation as to how the UK could retaliate. The attack has also caused widespread alarm in the town of Salisbury.

This incident has brought England a little closer to the horrors of Syria, where civilians suffer attacks from chemical weapons on a regular basis. If a narrowly targeted nerve agent attack on two people can cause such harm and alarm, imagine the effects on the population of Ghouta when 1,400 residents died of a Sarin attack in August 2013. That attack targeted the small neighbourhood of Zamalka  in Eastern Ghouta, and Moadamiya neighborhood in Western Ghouta which had a population similar in number to Salisbury.

Four years on the horror and pain of the Ghouta chemical massacre attacks have  not subsided for those who survived. Here is a description of its effects.

Sarin is as deadly a nerve agent as that used on Sergei Skripal and his daughter. It has been used several times by Assad on Syrian  civilians, most recently in April 2017.

It is not the only chemical weapon in use by Assad against ordinary people: he has also developed chlorine bombs. Chlorine gas was used by the German army in the First World War to kill 5,000 allied soldiers. Today it is the most common chemical weapon used against towns and villages in East Ghouta. Napalm and other incendiary weapons have also been used, with horrific consequences.

Assad and Putin believe they can act with impunity to inflict the most heinous war crimes on Syrian citizens. Last November, Russia twice vetoed the extension of the UN’s investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria.

As in Syria, Putin believes that he can act with impunity to kill his enemies in Britain. Indeed his ambassador gloats at their misfortune.

Hamish de Bretton–Gordon, a former commander of the British regiment that specialised in dealing with chemical weapons, said of the Salisbury incident that ‘this is symptomatic of the fact that chemical weapons have become the norm. We haven’t done anything about the use of chemical weapons in Syria and Iran. Now we’re paying the price.’

If the UK government is finally to take action to protect British citizens and residents against chemical attack, I  hope that they will spare a thought also for Syrian civilians, who have endured immeasurably worse. In responding to Putin over the Salisbury attack, we must also end Putin and Assad’s impunity in Syria.

Image: Coverage of the attack in the Salisbury Journal.