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At least 14 people were confirmed to be killed when a Syrian airfield was attacked on Monday, April 9th. The Syrian and Russian governments have officially blamed Israel for the attack, though Israel has not responded to the allegations. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a number of the victims of the attack are thought to be Iranians or members of Iranian-backed militias. The event also comes after Israel has publicly declared that it will not allow Iran, considered by Israel as a major national security threat, to set up bases in war-torn Syria, fearing that the Iranian government may be taking advantage of the civil war in Syria to make territorial and military gains in the region.
Israel did claim responsibility for an airstrike in February of this year on the same air base, saying that Iran has been using this base to transfer weapons to the extremist group Hezbollah, a powerful enemy of the Israeli state. The Lebanese Army released a statement alleging that Israel had violated Lebanese airspace a number of times between Sunday and Monday, stopping just short of a full accusation. Iranian state media announced that four of the 14 killed were Iranian military advisors.
The incident comes after an alleged chemical attack conducted by the Syrian government in the city of Douma, which left dozens dead. Due to the instability of the region, medical sources have not been able to verify the number of casualties after that weekend attack. An unverified video appears to show the corpses of several men, women, and children inside of a house, many of whom have foam around their mouths. Both the Syrian and Russian governments deny that a chemical attack took place, but Russia announced that an evacuation deal with the rebel forces who hold the town had been reached in the days after the attack. Under the deal, 100 buses are said to be moving nearly 50,000 people (the vast majority of them civilians) out of the city. In light of these events, the Syrian government has announced their successful re-capture of Douma and its surrounding areas.
It is important to remember that the Israeli attack is yet another development in what is turning into a complex proxy war on many fronts, with Israel, Iran, Russia, and the United States all pouring military assets into the already de-stabilized region. President Donald Trump warned Russia, Iran, and Syria of a “big price to pay” following the alleged chemical attack, and he recently followed up on his warning by launching a coordinated strike of American cruise missiles against targets said to be related to the chemical attack. The missile strike came despite the lack of an independent verification that chemical weapons were used in the Douma attack.
Against this backdrop, the Chinese Foreign Ministry, among others, expressed concern over the serious escalation in military action in Syria, warning that “Syria ha[d] become the nexus for regional power plays and the arena for a shadow war between the West and Russia that portend even worse is to come if all involved do not exercise restraint and instead allow the current hostilities to escalate.”
The United States has a responsibility to lead by example in how they approach conflict in the region, and instigating peaceful negotiations should be a top priority in an area where unilateral military action can easily lead to a disproportionate response, further endangering civilian lives.