Another day, another collection of infuriating and confusing details. Associated Press correspondent Dale Gavlak and Jordanian reporter Yahya Ababneh are reporting that Syrian rebels in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, stated the chemical weapons used most recently in that country were supplied by Saudi intelligence and detonated accidentally in the rebel controlled neighborhood where they were being stored. This report introduces a new wrinkle into what is already an extremely complicated and volatile situation in the region where multiple factions and nations are wrestling to protect their interests. President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State John Kerry have gone out of their way over the last week to make the case that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for chemical weapons attacks that killed at least a thousand people depending on who’s doing the counting. That narrative is disputed by Syrian authorities, Russia, and some in the UN. From the article:
“My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.
Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion. The father described the weapons as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.”
Ghouta townspeople said the rebels were using mosques and private houses to sleep while storing their weapons in tunnels. Abdel-Moneim said his son and the others died during the chemical weapons attack. That same day, the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida, announced that it would similarly attack civilians in the Assad regime’s heartland of Latakia on Syria’s western coast, in purported retaliation.
“They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”
“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.
A well-known rebel leader in Ghouta named ‘J’ agreed. “Jabhat al-Nusra militants do not cooperate with other rebels, except with fighting on the ground. They do not share secret information. They merely used some ordinary rebels to carry and operate this material,” he said.
“We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,” ‘J’ said.
This story is currently single sourced but it certainly paints a different picture of what may have happened in Syria in August. A report from the father of a dead rebel who allegedly spoke to him about these weapons directly is compelling. If true, it raises a number of questions about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the delivery of chemical weapons to rebel factions the kingdom supports as well as US knowledge of what Saudi Arabia was doing and when. Regardless, the source, Mint Press News, appears to be a true non-profit journalistic enterprise and their reporter, Dale Gavlak, has real chops, being a current AP correspondent and having written for PBS, the BBC, and Salon.
This could get bumpy.