In Syria, The Time To Act Is Now

The images of an apparent chemical attack in Syria mean that the West's wait-and-see approach is simply no longer viable.

Protest in Amman against alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria
Protest in Amman against alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria


PARIS - The images from the many posted videos following Wednesday’s large-scale massacre from a toxic gas attack in Syria show corpses lined up, children suffocating in agony, men with their mouths and eyes opened wide while their bodies are wracked by convulsions. There are no traces of bullet or mortar wounds. The number of victims remains uncertain, but according to the Syrian opposition, it may be higher than 1,300.

Everything indicates that a powerful chemical agent was responsible for the deaths of these victims. Several experts in chemical weaponry who have observed these images have concluded that such a substance may well have been used. They suspect sarin, which the Syrian regime possesses in large quantities.

This attack represents a dramatic escalation in the civil war raging in Syria. In June, France, followed by the United Kingdom and the United States, asserted that chemical weapons had been used, pointing the finger at the Damascus regime. There are strong suspicions once again about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Syria’s unswerving ally, Russia, denounces the claims as pure manipulation.

This version is clearly not echoed by West. But the reactions there amount to no more than a wait-and-see approach that insists on establishing facts — and leaving that duty to U.N. weapons inspectors who are in Syria. This is quite a challenge, since the ability of these investigators to travel freely in the country has been effectively quashed.

It is a tragic symbol that the chemical crime took place only a few kilometers from the location of the U.N. team, which had arrived two days earlier. Beyond the horror of these images, what just happened in Syria is a humiliation for the United Nations.

Bashar al-Assad is undoubtedly a sharp observer of the international scene. Over the last few months, he noticed the sluggishness of foreign reactions to the “isolated” and repeated chemical attacks carried out by his troops, which at that point had killed 150 people.

He deduced that an “escalation” would not be any more troublesome. The Syrian dictator is also taking advantage of the fact that the world is focused on the Egyptian crisis. He feels that the coast is clear, and he is backed by Moscow and Tehran.

Back in 2012, the United States and European countries, including France, had threatened to act decisively if chemical weapons were used. Almost a year to the day after Barack Obama warned against crossing the “red line,” these look today like empty words. Faced now with what could be likened to a “Syrian Halabja” — in reference to the last massacre in the Middle East, in Kurdistan in 1988 — voices of indignation will not suffice.

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.


"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.

➡️


"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.



Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Anyone want to guess Trump's first post on his upcoming social media platform...? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at!

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