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France issues international arrest warrants for Syria President Assad, three others over 2013 chemical attacks

November 16, 2023 at 8:20 am

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus on 9 November 2021 [Emirates News Agency WAM]

France has issued international arrest warrants for Syria’s President and three of his regime’s associates over their involvement in chemical weapons attacks against Syrians in 2013.

According to an anonymous French judicial source quoted by the Reuters news agency on Wednesday, as well as lawyers representing the Syrian victims of the chemical attacks, the warrants impose the charges of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes on Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad, his brother Maher, and military Generals Ghassan Abbas and Bassam Al-Hassan.

Maher Al-Assad is the infamous head of Syrian military unit the 4th Armoured Division, while Generals Abbas and Al-Hassan work with the Scientific Studies and Research Centre, the agency attributed to the regime’s development of chemical weapons.

READ: The worrying lessons of the Syria chemical attack

The chemical attacks were conducted in August 2013 in the town of Douma and the district of Eastern Ghouta near the capital, Damascus, killing over 1,000 people and some reports putting the number at over 1,400.

The Syrian regime has consistently denied its involvement in the attacks, blaming rebels for conducting them in order to frame Assad. Despite the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) having concluded that Damascus was responsible, dissenting members of that group claimed that the evidence was skewed or insufficient, sparking an ongoing debate on the perpetrators.

The issuing of the warrants – the result of a criminal investigation into the chemical attacks – represents not only the first international arrest warrants over the matter a decade after their occurrence, but also the first to have been issued for the Syrian President himself, making it a historical milestone in the search for justice by the victims of the attacks and the many war crimes and human rights abuses by the regime.

READ: One chemical weapons report should not whitewash a decade of Assad’s crimes