Factbox: Another Chemical Attack in Syria

Saturday, April 7, 2018
7:45pm EST: A suspected chemical gas attack targeted the last opposition-held town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta on April 7—the eighth chemical attack since US President Donald Trump took office.
The Syrian Civil Defense rescue workers recorded 42 fatalities as of Sunday, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll reached 80, including 40 who reportedly died from suffocation. Syria, Russia, and Iran all denied reports of the attack, calling it a fabrication.

A statement by the civil defense forces said that more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were brought to medical centers, exhibiting symptoms including difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth, and signs of oxygen deprivation. A doctor in Ghouta quoted by the Union of Medical Care Organizations, said patients were coughing blood, a symptom not seen in previous chemical attacks.

Sunday, April 8, 2018
4:30am EST: Syrian state media announced on Sunday that its airbase in Homs withstood a missile attack that killed fourteen, including some Iranian nationals. US officials denied involvement.

5:00am EST: Jaish al-Islam, the last opposition group present in Eastern Ghouta, struck a deal with the government to hand over Douma, the last town under their control, and allow armed opposition fighters safe evacuation out of Ghouta to another opposition-controlled district. 

6:55am EST: The European Union also issued a statement appealing to Russia and Iran to “use their influence to prevent any further attack and ensure the cessation of hostilities and de-escalation of violence.”

7:15am EST: Turkey, which has been cooperating with Assad’s allies, Russia and Iran, called for international action to prevent what it called “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

9:00am EST: Following the attack, jarring images and videos of the numerous casualties from the attack surfaced, much of them including young children. President Trump took to twitter to condemn the attack, holding Russia, Iran, and Syrian President Bashar responsible for the attack, saying there will be a ‘big price to pay.’

Trump also placed blame on former President Barack Obama:

The gas attack comes days after Trump announced the reversal of his administration’s policy toward Syria—pushing for the withdrawal of US forces from the country. Many analysts believe that this reversal in policy emboldened Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to carry out the strike with little, or only superficial repercussions. By the end of March, President Trump ordered the State Department to suspend more than $200 million in funds for recovery efforts in Syria while the administration recalculated their desired role in the war.

11:40am EST: Syria and Russia later accused Israel of carrying out the airstrike on the airbase but Israel has not issued a public response.

7:30pm EST: Two unidentified US officials confirmed to NBC News that Israel was behind the airstrike on the Syrian airbase and that the US was informed of the Israeli airstrike in advance.

Monday, April 9, 2018
5:45am EST: The Lebanese army put out a statement soon after stating that four Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace, flying toward the Syrian border. 

8:00am EST: On Monday, The UN announced it will hold an emergency meeting to address the chemical attack in Syria.

1:00pm EST: President Trump announced in a Cabinet meeting that he would make a decision on how to respond within 24 to 48 hours. Trump said he would decide along with military leaders on who exactly is responsible for what he described as a “heinous attack” on innocent Syrians, saying “We cannot allow atrocities like that.” When asked about whether he would utilize military action, he stated that “nothing is off the table.”

It would not be the first time Trump used military action in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Just over a year ago, Trump ordered a military response to the Assad regime’s use of sarin gas against civilians in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing more than 80 civilians. Trump ordered the military to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles on the Syrian regime’s al-Shayrat airfield in retaliation. Trump’s earlier statements could raise the prospect of a similar strike as an act of reprisal to this weekend’s events.

In response to President Trump’s remarks in the Cabinet meeting, Russia warned the US of “grave repercussions” if it decides to act militarily against Assad.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018
4:30am EST: The Russian military have been jamming US military drones flying over Syria, heavily affecting American military operations.

6:30am EST: The top advisor to Iran’s Supreme leader stated that Israel will be met with a ‘response’ to the strike on the Syrian airbase that killed 7 Iranians.

9:00am EST: Syria invites the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate allegations of the chemical attack in Douma after making its own investigation with Russian advisers that found no chemical residue was found and no civilians were taken to any hospitals in the area. It is unclear if evidence was tampered with since the regime went into the area.

11:40am EST: Reports that a US Navy destroyer armed with sixty tomahawk missiles is in position off the coast of Syria, although the Pentagon denies this. Analysts claim the US dispatched other aircraft carriers as well.

12:00pm ESTTrump cancelled a planned trip to Latin America, citing the Syrian crisis as the reason, with press secretary Sarah Sanders saying “The president will remain in the United States to oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world,”

3pm  EST: The United Nations Security Council meeting on Tuesday failed to approve three different draft solutions on the chemical weapons attack. One by the U.S. was vetoed by Russia, while two proposed drafts written by Russia failed to get a minimum of nine votes.

4:30pm EST  Russia threatened to shoot down any U.S. missiles fired at Syria and target the launch sites in a broadcasted statement from Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018
5:30am ESTAccording to the World Health Organization, as many as 500 people seen at medical facilities exhibited symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals as a result of the suspected chemical attack last week in the town of Douma. 

7:00am EST: This morning, President Trump responded to Russia’s threat by tweeting that missiles “will be coming,” foreshadowing possible military action in Syria

In a follow-up tweet, President Trump softened his rhetoric saying that there was “no reason” for the US’s worsening relationship with Russia:

While the possibility of US retaliatory airstrikes against the Assad regime grow, the target of those attacks– whether they also include Russian or Iranian marks– is still undetermined.

Thursday, April 12, 2018
7:15am EST:
On Wednesday, President Trump warned Russia to “get ready” and that missiles “will be coming, nice and new and smart.” President Trump’s warning appeared to publicly convey military plans, a move that the President severely criticized former President Barack Obama for. This morning, US President Donald Trump attempted to prompt uncertainty regarding the timing of potential airstrikes against the Assad regime, a day after signaling an attack was imminent:

1:48pm EST:
Two U.S. Officials annouce that blood and urin samples from the victims of Saturday’s attacks tested positive for chemical weapons. The samples revealed the presence of both chlorine gas and an unidentified nerve agent.

Savannah Carter
  is an intern at the Rafik Hariri Center. Yousuf Eltagouri is an intern at the Rafik Hariri Center. Follow him on Twitter at @yousufeltagouri

Image: Photo: Workers collect the rubble of damaged buildings to be recycled and reused for reconstruction, under the supervision of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the government-controlled district of Wadi al-Sayeh in Homs, Syria July 19, 2016. Picture taken July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki