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Searching for Syria's chemical perpetrators

The United Nations' team of experts has begun its investigation into the alleged use of poisonous gas in Damascus. The opposition has made up its mind about who is at fault, and so have President Assad's supporters.

As "comedy" - that's how Radghda Mardinie, editor-in-chief of Syria's state newspaper Tishrin, described allegations that the Assad regime used chemical weapons. For him, the accusations and UN inspections are all part of a US-Israel conspiracy.

Mardinie wrote that the conspiracy has broken international law and seeks to supply jihadists with weapons, in order to bring about Syria's collapse and redesign lines on the regional map. He's convinced that chemical weapons were used. And he's sure that Western "mercenaries" are responsible. He claims to have proof.

Conspiracy theories

Syrian media has made some serious accusations against the US government.

Syrian state television, in a background report, drew parallels between Syria and Iraq in 2003. They include serious accusations against the US: Washington supplied the opposition with chemical weapons and, under the name of "humanitarian intervention," is preparing a strike against Damascus.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on affordable education at Henninger High School REUTERS/Jason Reed

Syria has compared Obama's response to Iraq in 2003

This also apparently clarifies why the Syrian regime agreed to grant UN observers access to affected regions. Bashar al-Assad has nothing to hide, the logic goes. In regions loyal to Assad, various conspiracy theories are making the rounds as to the use of chemical weapons on August 21.

Other attempts to clarify the situation draw a connection with the current military development in Damascus. Commentator Nassir Qandil, on the private, pro-Assad "Addounia TV" this Monday, claimed that government troops were on the verge of a decisive victory. This victory would have assured complete control over entrance to the capital city - until the poisonous gas attack happened.

Qandil believes that Western states were behind the attack. He argues that the West averted a sure military defeat of its allies among the armed opposition groups, and sought to weaken the Syrian government’s position in possible negotiations.

'Signs of weakness'

The deputy chief of the "National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces," Salem Musallit, believes that the Syrian government has shown weakness by allowing UN inspectors to access the alleged sites of chemical attacks.

In an interview with pan-Arab network Al-Arabiya, Musallit described the regime's apparent fear of military retaliation. He added that the civilian population should be effectively protected.

Ahmad Jarba, head of the coalition, over the weekend demanded "powerful intervention." He said the regime must be prevented from further killing civilians, and that there was an urgent need for protected zones to be established.

An activist wearing a gas mask is seen in the Zamalka area REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

The attack in Ghouta has unleashed waves of concern and support among observers for the victims

Little trust in the UN

Activists and the regime's opponents have taken to social networks to express their sadness, anger and frustration. Many changed their Facebook profile pictures to images of Ghouta's child victims or a yellow chemical weapons warning sign with a map of Syria in its center. There seems to be little doubt among them that President Bashar al-Assad's troops were behind the massacre. But few believe the international community will go through with its threats to do something against Assad as a result.

Syrian journalist Bashar Yousef works in Beirut and is in daily contact with activists from his home country, who update him on what is taking place. He says many of his contacts are already calling the Syrian conflict a "new cold war" in which the maintenance of global balance has highest priority. "This massacre is not the first. There were massacres before that were also documented. But nothing happened," he notes.

Bashar Yousef does not think that the West will strive to topple Assad's regime following the chemical attack in Ghouta. Should there be a military strike, it will likely be aimed at strategic targets, the young journalist says, adding that "the regime will go on."

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