Syrians tell Trump: 'Chemical weapons aren't our only problem'

Syrians tell Trump: 'Chemical weapons aren't our only problem'
In-depth: Syrians are far from confident that US missile strikes against Assad are more than a publicity stunt to benefit a flagging Washington administration, report Adam Lucente and Zouhir al-Shimale.
4 min read
Targeting one airbase will not stop the daily airstrikes threatening thousands of Syrians [AFP]
The Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack that killed 86 people last week was not the first tragedy of the Syrian civil war - but it was particularly gruesome given the suspected use of sarin gas.

Ibrahim al-Sweid was horrified by what he saw upon arriving at a hospital near the bomb site.

"There were victims all over the place. Many were on the ground, washing their injuries with water," Sweid, a correspondent for Halab Today, told The New Arab.

"Many, many children died. And they were foaming a yellow material from their mouth."

As Syrians were still mourning, the US struck the Syrian Shayrat Airfield with around 60 Tomahawk missiles in retaliation. US President Donald Trump announced the strike from his golf resort estate at Mar-a-Lago, calling the Khan Sheikhoun attack "a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack."

While some Syrians praised Trump following the attack, there remain doubts about what the US intends for Syria and President Bashar al-Assad.

"The attack targeted the airport and only destroyed planes. It was just an international message," said Sweid. "It says 'we responded to the chemical attack and bombed the facility'."
If America is serious about standing by the innocents, it must stop the machine of death

Mohamed Hassan al-Doghem, another Halab Today correspondent, said the missile strike wasn't intended to make any substantive change in Syria. "In my opinion, the American strikes are fine," he said. "But I don't count on them to make any changes to the crimes of the regime."

That the US reportedly informed Russia before the strike is proof it was simply a statement of the US' presence in Syria, said Doghem. "If America is serious about standing by the innocents, it must stop the machine of death," he added, referring to the regime and its allies.

On Friday, regime airstrikes were reported to have again hit Khan Sheikhoun, marking the first response to the US bombing the day before.
Video: What did Trump's missile strike actually hit?

Some Syrians praised Trump on Twitter, and the Arabic-language hashtag "America bombs Bashar's regime" became one of the most active on the microblogging site. Many of those tweeting, however, were from elsewhere in the Arab world.

Pictures of Trump, renamed "Abu Ivanka al Amreeki" [father of Ivanka the American] went viral, with captions celebrating him. However, as Syrian journalist and activist Rami Jarrah told The Independent, the phrase "we love you" on some of these pictures was intended as satire - a reference to the identical phrase used by Assad supporters.

In regime-controlled areas, the narrative is unsurprisingly not at all positive, but angry. The Syrian army immediately called the US strike "a blatant act of aggression", and said the US had helped "terrorist groups" by bombing the airbase.
Trump's instincts were non-interventionist, but now he has a taste for it. I'd be shocked if his popularity doesn't rise

The decision does mark a slight shift in US policy, especially considering Trump's praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and previous vocal criticism of US involvement in Syria while on the campaign trail.

"Trump's instincts were non-interventionist, but now he has a taste for it. I'd be shocked if his popularity doesn't rise after the attack," said Northeastern University professor Max Abrahms.

Abrahms said he does not think the attack signals the US now supports regime change - but that Trump's views are evolving, nonetheless.

"Trump's advisers are less pro-Russia and pro-Assad," he said, pointing to the impassioned speech delivered by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN following the chemical attack. That adviser Steve Bannon has been removed from the National Security Council is also noteworthy.

Last week's cruise missile strike was not the first time the US has bombed Syria. Nearly 9,000 airstrikes have been launched from aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean and Gulf waters, targeting Islamic State group fighters in Syria and Iraq. The civilian death toll has risen sharply in recent weeks.

"Prior to the attack, the position was clear. It said our involvement was limited to fighting terrorism. Now it seems as if Trump is motivated by multiple concerns, not just counter-terrorism, but humanitarian ones," said Abrahms.

If anything was clear to Syrians and the world following Thursday's strike, it was that the war is not over.

"There are ten airports in Syria," said Sweid. "We can be bombed from a different one, and chemical weapons aren't our only problem."

Adam Lucente is a freelance journalist. He has worked in Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia and across the region. Follow him on Twitter: @Adam_Lucente

Zouhir al-Shimale is a Syrian journalist from Aleppo currently in Turkey. Follow him on Twitter: @ZouhirAlShimale