"We are seeing a massive displacement inside Syria," Panos Moumtzis, the United Nations regional coordinator for Syria, said Monday. "From January to April, there were over 920,000 newly displaced people," he continued. "This was the highest displacement in that short period of time we have seen since the conflict started."
This new wave of internal displacement brings the total refugee population inside Syria to about 6.2 million, while another 5.6 million Syrians are refugees outside their country's borders. The last widely accepted death toll estimate was 470,000 killed in the conflict as of 2016; subsequent estimates put it as high as 511,000 and as low as 188,000. Syria's total population in 2010, before the civil war began, was about 20 million.
Moumtzis highlighted recent escalation in fighting and airstrikes in and near the city of Idlib as particular cause for concern. Idlib is supposed to be a de-escalation zone, and it is already serving as a temporary home to civilians displaced from Aleppo. For those living in Idlib now, "there is no other Idlib to take them out to," Moumtzis said. "Really, this is the last location. There is no other location to further move them." Bonnie Kristian
The Syrian military said Monday that after fighting for a month, it has captured an area of southern Damascus from the Islamic State, and the capital is now, for the first time since the country's civil war began in 2011, under full government control.
Government forces were able to take back the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk and the Hajar al-Aswad district, and they will now focus on the territory held by rebels in southern Syria. President Bashar al-Assad's forces have been assisted by Iranian-backed militias, including Hezbollah out of Lebanon, and after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday called on Iran to leave Syria, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters that his country's "presence in Syria has been based on a request by the Syrian government and Iran will continue its support as long as the Syrian government wants."
A monitoring group said that 1,600 people, including hundreds of ISIS militants, left southern Damascus on Saturday and Sunday, heading toward the eastern desert after agreeing to a deal with the Syrian government, The Associated Press reports. Catherine Garcia
Investigators say Syrian and Russian authorities blocked them from site of suspected chemical attack
Syrian and Russian authorities have reportedly blocked a watchdog group from investigating a suspected chemical attack in Syria.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an independent watchdog group, sought to visit the city of Douma, near Damascus, to investigate a recent attack, The Associated Press reports. The U.S. has accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons against civilians in Douma earlier this month, killing around 40 people. Russia, a Syrian ally, has claimed that the event was staged, and both nations have denied the use of poison gas.
The OPCW tried to visit the site of the alleged attack to investigate, but local officials said that the team lacked proper permissions from the United Nations, AP reports. A U.N. spokesperson disputed that claim, telling AP that the OPCW group had been fully cleared by the U.N. to investigate in Douma.
Instead of allowing investigators to access Douma, Syrian authorities said that the OPCW team could interview a group of 22 witnesses. Officials in the U.S. are concerned that Russians may have tampered with evidence at the site, Reuters reports, a charge a Russian official denied Monday. The OPCW group planned to collect samples and document evidence, not assign blame for the incident.
The U.S. launched a series of strikes late Friday in response to the alleged chemical attack, targeting chemical weapons facilities and a research center. Russia and Syria reported that missiles were shot down and failed to cause major damage, but President Trump said the strikes were "perfectly executed." Read more at The Associated Press. Summer Meza
"We can all see that a Russia disinformation campaign is in full-force this morning, but Russia's desperate attempts at deflection cannot change the facts," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Saturday at a Security Council meeting following U.S.-led strikes on Syria. President Trump ordered the attack Friday in response to what Washington believes was chemical weapons use by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last week.
Haley argued "there is clear information demonstrating" the Assad regime's culpability. "The pictures of dead children were not fake news," she said. "They were the result of the Syrian regime's barbaric inhumanity. And they were the result of the regime and Russia's failure to live up to their international commitments to remove all chemical weapons from Syria."
The ambassador also indicated the Trump administration is prepared to launch further strikes on Syria if chemical weapons are used again. "The time for talk ended last night," she announced. "The United States is locked and loaded. When our president draws a red line, our president enforces a red line." Watch an excerpt of Haley's comments below. Bonnie Kristian
Nikki Haley: "We can all see that a Russian disinformation campaign is in full force this morning. But Russia’s desperate attempts at deflection cannot change the facts... The pictures of dead children were not fake news." (via CBS) pic.twitter.com/j2m3ajmWjF
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) April 14, 2018
Some congressional Democrats and Republicans alike slammed President Trump for ordering military strikes on Syria without seeking congressional authorization:
The Constitution gives Congress the power to authorize military action. If @realDonaldTrump wants to expand American military involvement in Syria's civil war, he must seek approval from Congress – & provide a comprehensive strategy with clear goals & a plan to achieve them.(2/2)
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 14, 2018
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) called the strikes "illegal" and "reckless." "Today, it's a strike on Syria — what's going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next?" Kaine asked. "The last thing Congress should be doing is giving this president a blank check to wage war against anyone, anywhere." Minority leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave more neutral responses, calling for caution and strategy without condemning the strikes.
On the other side of the aisle, libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) used language similar to Kaine's:
These offensive strikes against Syria are unconstitutional, illegal, and reckless. The next speaker of the House must reclaim congressional war powers as prescribed in Article I of the Constitution. @SpeakerRyan has completely abdicated one of his most important responsibilities.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) April 14, 2018
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a frequent Amash ally, tweeted a litany of questions for those, especially Republicans, supporting the strikes:
For those who say POTUS can order strikes w/o Congress:
1) can he strike China/Russia/Britain under same authority?
2) can he bomb Assad’s living quarters?
3) is there a limit to size of weapon? (MOAB? Nuke?)
4) can he send troops?
5) did Obama have same authority in Libya?
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) April 14, 2018
In the Senate, Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) likewise called on Trump to seek congressional authorization. Paul said on Fox News Thursday he objects to the idea that the president can just "go to war when he wants, where he wants." Bonnie Kristian
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday joined British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron in endorsing the overnight U.S.-led strikes on Syria. Merkel said the attack was "necessary and appropriate, to ensure the effectiveness of the international ban of chemical weapons use and to warn the Syrian regime of further attempts."
Another strike could happen, said the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, if the "red line is crossed again" with another chemical attack. France declassified an intelligence report supporting "beyond possible doubt" Washington's allegation that the Syrian regime was responsible for chemical weapons use last week.
Canada, Israel, Turkey, the European Union, and NATO also announced support for the strikes, while the United Nations both condemned chemical weapons and urged U.S. restraint. China called for diplomacy, and Iraq warned of unintended consequences.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who condemned the U.S. strikes, has called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council "to discuss aggressive actions of the U.S. and its allies," an effort unlikely to produce any meaningful censure of the strikes given their coordination by three permanent council members, the U.S., U.K., and France. Bonnie Kristian
Moscow on Saturday condemned Friday night's U.S. strikes on Bashar al-Assad regime targets in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the U.S. is "deepening a humanitarian catastrophe," while a Russian embassy statement called the attack "treacherous and insane" and a "clear and present danger to world peace" which violates international law.
Fellow Syrian ally Iran also slammed the strikes, labeling them "aggression" and "a flagrant violation of international laws and a disregard for Syria's right of national sovereignty and territorial integrity." Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he "explicitly announce[s] that the U.S. president, French president, and the British prime minister are criminals and have committed crime."
Assad himself told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani the attack has only strengthened his commitment to "crush terrorism in every inch" of Syria, referring to the rebel fighters whose territory the Syrian president is believed by the U.S. to have targeted with chemical weapons last week. Bonnie Kristian
Russia claimed Friday that a suspected chemical attack in Syria last weekend was "staged" by the U.K.
The U.S. has accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of directing the use of chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta. The attack reportedly killed dozens of civilians in an area that has been targeted by the Syrian government because of the presence of rebel groups. Blood and urine samples taken from the area showed evidence that the incident was in fact a chemical attack, NBC News reports.
But the Kremlin, which backs al-Assad's government, said there was "irrefutable data" proving that the attack was "yet another staged event," reports NBC News. A Russian military spokesperson released a statement that said the U.K. was "directly involved in the provocation," The Associated Press reports. Medics at the local hospital additionally said that none of the patients were hurt by chemicals, the spokesperson said.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, refuted Russia's claims, saying: "We know who did this. Our allies know who did this. Russia can complain all it wants about fake news, but no one is buying its lies and its cover-ups." President Trump is determining how to respond to the attack, Haley said. Summer Meza