News Column

Damascus Chemical Strikes Prompt Vigils, Condemnation

August 22, 2013

News that chemical weapons strikes in Syria killed hundreds of people Wednesday saw impromptu gatherings in Beirut and Tripoli, as politicians condemned the attacks.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri called on the international community to stop massacres committed by the Syrian regime and warned Lebanese allies of Damascus of their continued support for the regime.

"We reiterate our solidarity with the oppressed Syrian people and our condemnation of the crimes committed by [Syrian President] Bashar Assad, and call upon the international community to shoulder its responsibility once and for all and halt the policies of inaction on what the regime is committing," Hariri said in a statement.

"We warn some Lebanese who insist on getting involved in the ongoing genocide in Syria that history will have no mercy for the murderers and killers and will certainly not grant any certificate of innocence to Bashar's accomplices in burning Syria," Hariri added.

The Syrian opposition group said that as many as 1,300 people were killed in a chemical weapons rocket strikes in rebel-held areas near Damascus.

"The problem lies not only with Bashar Assad, who has lost human feelings toward his people, but also the international community, which is allowing the Damascus murderer to persist in committing massacres and systematically destroy Syrian cities and their history," Hariri said.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora issued a similar condemnation saying it was "no longer acceptable" to remain silent.

"Remaining silent and passive toward this unprecedented amount of crimes committed is no longer acceptable. All Lebanese factions should first take a decisive and clear stance on these terrorist acts," Siniora said.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea urged the Arab League and the U.N. Security Council to discuss the attacks and take appropriate decisions.

"This massacre is not part of military operations taking place between warring groups in Syria because the victims died in areas that are not witnessing clashes between armed groups," Geagea said.

In Downtown Beirut, several hundreds of people gathered for a silent march from Martyrs' Square to the ESCWA headquarters, amid heavy police deployment. Many of the participants were in tears, carrying candles and placards that read "Dear free world, enjoy watching us burn" and "Our children are suffocating."

Aley MP Akram Shehayeb, from the Progressive Socialist Party, and Minyeh MP Ahmad Fatfat, from the Future Movement, were also present.

"What is happening in Syria is unacceptable and has crossed the red lines, and what happened in Syria is similar to what previously happened in Iraq," Shehayeb said.

Syrian activist Assem Hamsho wrote a memorandum that condemned the attack, demanded an immediate investigation, and called for pressuring the Syrian government into allowing aid to reach the victims. It was handed to Nadim Khoury, the deputy executive secretary of ESCWA, to be presented to United Nations officials.

Souheila Bakr, 13, who hails from Damascus and now lives in the Beirut suburb of Burj al-Barajneh, carried a candle and a rose.

"I am here because I want to ask for protection for the children," she said. "They are innocent, and still they killed them."

Iyad, who would only give his first name as he lives in Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, carried a picture of the victims and was determined to be present.

"I had to come," he said. "What else can I do about this?"

In the north, people gathered at Tripoli's Nour Square at dusk and prayed for the victims, while dozens of activists and residents of next-door Mina held a sit-in at the town's roundabout in condemnation of the attack. Carrying pictures of the victims and banners condemning the use of chemical weapons, many wore masks to cover their mouths, symbolizing protection from a gas attack.


(c)2013 The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)

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Source: Copyright Daily Star, The (Beirut, Lebanon) 2013