Scott: Three years ago today, the battle in the country of Syria began when citizens started rising up against their government. And it seems there is no end in sight. Now, Demetrius Pipkin takes a closer look at Syria’s civil war.
Heba Sewan: So we started feeling dizzy.
Demetrius: Heba Sewan is lucky to be alive.
Heba: It was like… I can’t describe it. It’s horror.
Demetrius: Her neighborhood near Syria’s capital was hit with a chemical weapon called sarin gas last summer. The poison has no color or smell, but if inhaled can kill in less than ten minutes.
Heba: …Crowded with people on the floor, people trying to help, mourning, shouting, people running back and forth. Their bodies start to make, like, something came out from their noses, from their ears. It was like blood was… I don’t know. And then we had to bury them all.
Demetrius: Fourteen hundred people were killed in the chemical attacks believed to be by the government. The three-year-long conflict now has a death toll of over 140,000, nearly 13,000 of them innocent women and children.
It all began in 2011 as part of a wave of protests across the Arab world known as the Arab Spring. The Syrian people took to the streets demanding more freedom from the government of President Bashar al-Assad whose family had ruled Syria for four decades.
The government cracked down on the peaceful demonstrations with violence. The protestors fought back. The world watched as tens of thousands of Syrians were killed in the conflict. And most countries, including the United States, were reluctant to get involved.
Expert: The issue of the possibility of chemical weapons use remains a great concern.
Demetrius: That is until videos like these began showing up on YouTube claiming the Syrian government had used chemical weapons to kill innocent civilians. Heba was one of the lucky few to walk away from the attack. While the fumes left her temporarily blind, the memories will stay with her forever.
Heba: I couldn’t see for a week, and I was, like, traumatized. I remember I wake up, I sleep and wake up, sleep and wake up, and ask how did those people die?
Demetrius: A chemical weapon is any toxic chemical that can cause death, injury, or incapacitation through its chemical action.
Now, in 1925, right after World War I, more than 130 countries, including Syria, signed the Geneva Protocol, which banned the use of chemical weapons because of the harm they can do to civilians. But it wasn’t until the mid 90s that the production and stockpiling of those weapons were banned as well. However, Syria did not sign on to that agreement.
President Obama: If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.
Demetrius: Last year, after threats of military action from the United States, Syria agreed to turn over their chemical weapons. But Syria has been slow to act. Only a third of the country’s chemical stash, an estimated 1,400 tons, has been shipped out to be destroyed. The U.S. government worries that the final deadline on June 30th will be missed. Syrian officials blame the delays on the ongoing civil war, which doesn’t appear close to an end. President Obama said the U.S. will do more to help end the fighting.
Obama: There will be some intermediate steps that we can take to apply more pressure to the Assad regime. And we are going to be continuing to work with all the parties concerned to try to move forward on a diplomatic solution.
Demetrius: But that is not enough for Heba. She is worried about her father, who she hasn’t seen since he was arrested by Assad’s army over two years ago, and her 17- year-old brother who remains trapped in Syria. She wants the international community to do more to stop Assad’s government.
Heba: We need justice.
Demetrius Pipkin, Channel One News.
Scott: For our complete coverage of the crisis in Syria, check out ChannelOne.com.