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Why Sarin Isn’t the Biggest Concern for Syrian Children

Though Syrian children are being killed by snipers and shells and increasingly succumb to malnutrition, polio, waterborne diseases and bitter cold, our policymakers are acting as if chemical weapons were the main cause of mayhem and death to Syrian children. .

Written by Dr. Zaher Sahloul Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

It may come as a surprise to those of us following the Syrian crisis that a recent report by Oxford Research Group, entitled “Stolen Futures: The Hidden Toll of Child Casualties in Syria,” documented the killing of 11,420 Syrian children from the start of the conflict until August 2013, not by chemical agents, but by old-style and new conventional weapons. The report’s findings include:

• 71 percent of children were killed by explosive weapons.

26.5 percent of children died from bullets.

• 764 children as young as one year old were summarily executed.

• 389 were killed by sniper fire.

According to the U.S. estimates, 426 children were gassed to death by Sarin on Aug. 21 in the Ghouta chemical attack, which means that only 3.5 percent of Syrian children were killed by chemical weapons, while the vast majority (96.5 percent) were killed by conventional methods.

In my recent medical mission to Aleppo as a volunteer physician through the Syrian American Medical Society, I learned that children as young as the age of three had been killed by sniper bullets while crossing from one side of the city to another. They had lost limbs or eyes from shrapnel or had been blown apart during the indiscriminate shelling of their neighborhoods.

Many sustained lifelong disabilities or disfiguring burns. All had deep psychological scars. Doctors told me that they were seeing more children killed by conventional methods since the chemical weapons agreement signed by the Syrian government and global powers.

One explanation for that, they said, is that the government is eager to change the dynamics on the ground ahead of January’s peace talks: talks that might have been interpreted by Assad as the international community’s green light to continue its assault as long as it does not use chemical agents.

So, Syrian children will no longer be gassed to death by Sarin or other internationally prohibited chemical weapons. Now, as it has been the case for the past two and a half years, they will only be allowed to burn, bleed or be blown to death by tolerated conventional weapons like barrel bombs, surface-to-surface missiles and incendiary shells. Other accepted forms of death include, but are not limited to: torture and summary execution while in detention, freezing to death or heat stroke in refugee camps, malnutrition, dehydration and polio.

The number of massacred Syrian children has now surpassed that of Bosnian children killed during the three-year Bosnian genocide. But the global community that decided (following another genocide, in Rwanda) that the U.N. has the responsibility to protect (R2P) populations from the crimes of their states has been fairly silent about what needs to be done to protect Syrian children.

World powers have decided to ignore war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and their responsibility to protect as long as the Syrian regime promises not to gas its children anymore.

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