Reports of kidnappings, chemical weapons show increased Syria dangers

Speaking in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Israeli military officials seconded British and French claims that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against rebels:

It was the most direct and public claim by Israel to date that Syria has resorted to chemical weapons, which would be a troubling escalation of a brutal civil war that has stretched on for more than two years. Coming less than a week after France and Britain made similar assertions to the United Nations, the remarks add to mounting international pressure on the United States — which has repeatedly said it will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons – to intervene in the Syrian conflict.

After a meeting in Istanbul over the weekend, the United States promised to provide greater aid to the rebels, but the Obama administration has declined to send arms for fear that military equipment could go to Islamist militants:

The United States has given food and medical assistance to the opposition military. [Secretary of State John] Kerry did not specify what would be authorized under the new assistance, but administration officials have said that President Obama has approved items such as body armor and night-vision goggles.

One country sending weapons to Syria is Qatar. Some in the region have complained that Qatar’s equipment is being used by Islamists, and the rebels’ international allies have had trouble agreeing on whom to support in Syria:

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday the administration has made no conclusions on whether or not Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons against civilians. (The Washington Post)

Allegations that some Qatari aid is flowing to extremists have been made primarily made by Qatar’s Persian Gulf neighbors, which are rivals for regional influence and which have their own equities in the outcome in Syria. All are friends of the United States, and their rivalry has put the Obama administration in a difficult position as it tries to establish the parameters of its Syria policy.

The Israeli officers spoke a day after members of the Syrian opposition accused the government of a massacre in Jdeidet al-Fadel, west of Damascus:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog group, said Monday afternoon that activists in Jdeidet al-Fadel had documented 101 dead inside the town, including at least 10 women and three children. But the Observatory said in a statement that the actual death toll could exceed 250 because “there are missing people that are hard to reach while the regime forces are deployed to the town.”

Activists also said that a number of the area’s residents were arrested over the weekend as rebel fighters ran out of ammunition and retreated, allowing forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad to accelerate their offensive. Some estimated that hundreds had disappeared; they also said that area shops were looted and that homes were burned.

The rest of the country is becoming more and more dangerous for ordinary Syrians as kidnappings are becoming more common:

Both the Syrian opposition and government security forces have been accused of abducting people, often for sectarian or political motives. But in recent months, kidnapping for ransom has increasingly become a criminal enterprise, observers say. . .

The kidnappers often target rich businessmen or skilled professionals, such as doctors. And in some cases documented by activists and monitoring groups, the hostage is killed even if the ransom is paid.

Interactive Grid: Keeping track of the conflict in Syria through videos, images and tweets.
Max Ehrenfreund writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee.

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