Investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have only recently reached Douma, scene of an alleged chemical bombing attack on April 7, and have not yet had time to test samples they collected to see if banned poison chemicals were actually used, but already US mainstream media reporting on the situation in the Damascus suburb where the alleged chemical attack is said to have occurred is starting to shift. That shift tends to make the story to fall more comfortably in line with the US government position that the attack, if it happened, was the work of the Syrian military, and that Assad’s “attack” caused rebels to surrender and agree to leave the embattled city.
The problem is, though, that back on April 1, a week before the alleged attack, the Associated Press was reporting something quite different: namely that rebels in Douma were beginning to evacuate the area they had held for years, under a safe passage agreement negotiated with the Syrian government, according to which buses would be able to remove them to safety in the north of the country. That report made clear that the rebel resistance had already collapsed g and that the rebel fighters were going to be evacuated in following days by chartered buses, which had already begun moving them out of the city well before April 7.
A French state television report on April 1 also reported that on that date:
Negotiators in the last rebel-held bastion in Syria’s eastern Ghouta reached a deal on Saturday with the Russian side to evacuate the wounded from Douma to rebel-held northern Syria, local sources familiar with the deal said.
The agreement was reached by the negotiating committee that comprises both civic leaders and representatives of Jaish al-Islam, the rebel faction in control of Douma, the sources said.
The committee has been negotiating a deal to spare the city a military assault by the Syrian army and its allies who encircle it. They have threatened to storm the city if rebels do not agree to surrender the last patch in the enclave in return for safe passage to insurgent-held territory in northwestern Syria.
These accounts of course raise serious questions as to why Assad would opt to drop a few chemical bombs as he’s accused by the US of doing, killing a few dozen local residents while predictably angering the world community and giving the US an opening to bomb his forces. Why do that if Assad’s military forces had already won full control of the last rebel stronghold in Syria’s capital city region, with an agreement, already being implemented, to ship the rebels out of the city?
But three weeks later, AP was reporting that the same rebel militants “gave up the town days after the alleged attack.” As the article by AP reporter Philip Issa states, “Thousands of people — rebels and civilians — left Douma on buses to north Syria in the days after the suspected attack, believing they could not live under government authority after it retook the town.”
So what’s the story, AP? Were rebel fighters already giving up on April 1 and already starting to leave Douma under a “safe passage” agreement with the Syrian government, well before the alleged attack on that suburb or did they only start leaving after the alleged chemical bombing?
It’s hard to know based upon the reporting by the leading American wire service, used by hundreds of news organizations foreign and domestic to provide their international coverage, though one would think any honest report on departures after the alleged attack would have mentioned that the evacuation effort, organized with Russian help and clearly indicating that the rebels had given up Douma and had already begun days before the time of the alleged Assad chemical attack.
It remains to be seen what the OPCW investigators will find if anything (they are charged with llooking for evidence of banned chemical weapons, but are not expected to determine, if such evidence is found, who might have been responsible for their use). There is some question as to whether OPCW investigators will find anything definitive, given that they didn’t arrive on the scene of the alleged chemical bombing attack until 12 days after it is said to have happened. That delay was caused primarily by the surprise US cruise missile attack on April 13, which came a day before OPCW inspectors were scheduled to conduct their inspection. Also cited as a reason for the delays are concerns about security and investigators’ safety at the scene in Douma, though typically in mentioning the delay, US media tend to ignore the role of the US missile attack, and to mention only security concerns.