Here we go again with a claim that seems to surface every Spring: the US says it is looking into allegations the Syrian government has used chemical weapons as it continues an offensive against jihadists in northwest Syria.
Just as in prior incidents, it appears the sole originator of the claim is al-Qaeda in Syria, currently battling it out with pro-Assad forces near Idlib. And like with prior chemical attack allegations, it comes at a moment the jihadists are fast losing ground in the area.
According to Reuters, citing US State Department remarks:
US State Department says it sees signs Syrian government may be renewing use of chemical weapons, including alleged chlorine attack on May 19.
The State Department spokesman said in a written statement the US is closely monitoring Assad military operations in northwest Syria after an alleged chlorine attack on Sunday. "We are still gathering information on this incident, but we repeat our warning that if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons, the United States and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately," the statement reads.
The May 19 claimed incident has received little to no media coverage since it allegedly happened Sunday, with nothing in the way of any kind of photographs or footage yet to surface, unlike prior highly publicized chemical attack claims. It allegedly occurred near Idlib or possibly in northeast Latakia province, a government stronghold southwest of Idlib, and it appears the initial claim was made by none other that Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham before being picked up by Syrian opposition media groups and among some western Middle East think tanks analysts.
According to prior United States government statements Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) is synonymous with al-Qaeda in Syria (as it rebranded from Nusrah Front). Thus it once again it appears the United States is blindly parroting the claims al-Qaeda terrorists.
The few details that currently exist surrounding the claimed chemical attack were reported Sunday by Middle East-based source Al Masdar News:
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) launched a new attack to capture the key town of Kabani in the northeastern countryside of the Latakia Governorate.
Led by the 4th Armored Division, the Syrian Arab Army began their assault by launching a flurry of missiles and artillery shells towards the positions of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP).
During this barrage of missiles, the militants accused the Syrian Arab Army of using chlorine gas against them.
Two years ago in April 2017 it was also HTS that initially claimed a chemical attack by pro-Assad forces in Khan Shaykhun, Idlib province - which eventually resulted in President Trump ordering airstrikes on Syria for the first time.
During that incident, as well as ones following such as the more recent events in Douma outside of Damascus, both Syria and Russia have pointed the finger at al-Qaeda operatives and their backers for staging such "provocations" in order to draw in US intervention.
Brett McGurk — then White House appointed anti-ISIS envoy — previously described Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, the group making the latest chemical attack claims, in unusually frank comments:
Interestingly, the State Department in its Tuesday statement made extensive reference to repeat Russian and Syrian "false flag" allegations. According to the State Dept.:
Russia and the Assad regime have made these false allegations as a pretext in advance of the Assad regime’s own barbaric chemical weapons attacks. The facts, however, are clear: the Assad regime itself has conducted almost all verified chemical weapons attacks.
The statement further said Russian media criticisms of the White Helmets are part of "a continuing disinformation campaign" to create a "false narrative".
However, ironically these new allegations have surfaced just after a leaked report produced by the international watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), paints a very different picture contracting the US version of events on Douma last April 2018.
The Douma incident led to massive US and allied airstrikes on Damascus, which Trump had said was a "limited" and punitive campaign in order to prevent chemical weapons usage.