Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Opinion | Assad’s doctrine of horror: Chemical massacres as an example

Nine years after the chemical attacks on Ghouta in the countryside of Damascus, many of the secrets of this attack remain hidden, including what preceded this attack and what was prepared to follow. It is certain, however, that the Assad regime sought the largest number of victims with this crime to cause shock and horror to benefit militarily in the field and to send the message abroad that Bashar Assad will not leave his chair even if he is forced to burn the whole of Syria, whatever the red lines drawn by White House officials.

Some of the victims of the Ghouta chemical massacre in 2013; Photo credit: Social media

Terror is the first and most important tool for Assad against his enemies, whether they are Syrians or non-Syrians. For example, Hafez Assad, father of Bashar, could have captured those who were wanted in the uprising that broke out in the city of Hama in 1982 or kill only them with the cover of his military courts. But this was not enough for his mentality. The decision was to burn the whole city of Hama and kill most of its inhabitants. According to local and western sources, the number of victims of this massacre exceeded 16,000. Add to them thousands of missing ones, who were either liquidated and their bodies were never discovered or arrested to be liquidated in Palmyra prison and other security branches.

The use of the doctrine of the dissemination of horror by the Assad regime was not confined to Syrians, but also crossed outside the borders.

Eva J. Koulouriotis

What Hafez sought was to spread terror. Killing alone is not enough to terrorize the citizens. Sowing terror in their minds would make them feel that any movement outside the system would lead to frightful massacres.

The use of the doctrine of the dissemination of horror by the Assad regime was not confined to Syrians, but also crossed outside the borders. The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri (behind which was Bashar Assad and his regime and was carried out by elements associated with the Lebanese Hezbollah militia) with a truck loaded with more than ton of TNT, was not only intended to assassinate Hariri, whom he could have poisoned or shot by a sniper. The main purpose was to remind those who do not obey Assad that the scene of the disaster at St. George Square in downtown Beirut, the huge hole left in the street by the blast and the videos of the victims with burnt or mutilated parts of their body, are all parts of the doctrine of the dissemination of terror.

With the Syrian revolution entering then its second year, the military scene for the Assad regime was very complicated, especially in the area around the Syrian capital, Damascus. The rebels in eastern Ghouta had been organized and their attacks in the neighbourhoods of Jobar, Barzeh and Qaboun were increasingly critical to the capital’s eastern front. Any rift there would mean their entrance to the Abbasid Square and the stadium there and served as the last defensive base of the regime for the old neighbourhoods of Damascus. They would also enter Al-Adawi Street, where the Ministry of Oil is located, about 4 km far from Umayyad Square, the heart of the Syrian capital, Damascus. On the western front, the rebels of Daraya and Muadamiyah began targeting Mezzeh Military Airport with mortars and snipers.

In short, for those unfamiliar with the Syrian military field, Damascus was almost entirely besieged by the rebels by the summer of 2013 from three fronts: East, South and West, while their influence was increasing in the growing in the northern countryside of the city.

…the scene on August 21, 2013, could have been more frightening and the victims would have exceeded 7,000.

Eva J. Koulouriotis

This military suffocation the Assad regime was facing in Damascus, in the light of the fact that fighter jets did not significantly affect the ground, along with massive defections from the ranks of its army over the previous two years, prompted Assad to find a way to break the powerful fronts of the rebels and kill as many as possible, but also to spread terror to the inhabitants of the areas controlled by the Syrian military opposition.

To achieve these goals, the regime used its most deadly weapon, the chemical one, especially the Sarin nerve gas. It is important to emphasise that the Assad regime had already used gas chemical weapon (chlorine gas) before the events of the two Ghouta about 19 times, including Al-Otaiba, Zamalka and others, with a low fatal impact but with great importance to the events of August 21, 2013.

On that day, the world woke up with horrible scenes of more than 1,400 victims and thousands of injured as a result of the chemical attacks carried out by the Assad regime in many towns in the eastern and western Ghouta in Damascus countryside. This was followed by a ground attack by the Assad regime on the fronts of Jobar, Arbin and Daraya, but failed to bring about the sought-on change in the field. In fact, the size of this massacre was much smaller than the Assad regime hoped. This failure has two main reasons, one of which is related to the rebels and the other to the Assad regime.

On March 19, 2013, the city of Al-Otaiba was subjected to a chemical attack, which led to the deaths of about five people and the injury of dozens. This attack served as a warning for rebels in Syria in general and particularly in Damascus, who have since been expecting more such attacks. For this reason, hospitals in areas under the control of the Syrian military opposition were prepared with appropriate medicines and equipment to deal with new chemical attacks, while medical staff in these areas had been trained on how to treat the injured in similar cases. In fact, if these supplies and medicines did not exist, the scene on August 21, 2013, could have been more frightening and the victims would have exceeded 7,000.

Nine years after this horrific bloodless slaughter, the killers, led by Bashar Assad, are still unpunished.

Eva J. Koulouriotis

On the part of the Assad regime, with the green light from the high command of the army and Bashar Assad himself, the field military commanders had to determine the targets and locations that these chemical attacks would be directed. Fearing that their soldiers on the fronts would be affected, they chose to target areas inside eastern and western Ghouta and for this reason, the rebel forces on the fronts were not affected by this attack, which thwarted the ground attack that had been planned to take place after the chemical attack.

Nine years after this horrific bloodless slaughter, the killers, led by Bashar Assad, are still unpunished. Some, in fact, are trying to make his stay in power a fait accompli for the world. In addition, the Syrians must accept him and coexist with him.

This international hypocrisy will not change the fact that Syrians continue to want their freedom and will not stop until they get it.

Eva J. Koulouriotis
Eva J. Koulouriotis
Political analyst specialising in the Middle East with a focus on Syria, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Turkey; jihad and jihadist organisations and Greek-Turkish relations; Contributed to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, The New Arab, Al-Jazeera, Al-Sharq Qatar, Annahar, Orient News, Arab News, Huffington Post Greece, the Greek weekly Paraskinio and RT; Held several positions with the European Union of Women (EUW)


  1. Syria remains a lawless state that fills its prisons and mass graves with political prisoners while allowing criminals to roam freely as long as they do nothing perceived to threaten the criminal regime. Free Syrians raise their voices in demanding the release of those still being held in Assad’s detention prisons and the victims of forced disappearance.


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