Middle East

Syria 'chemical attack': World media reaction

Lebanese and Syrian civilians hold signs and Syria's former independence flag as they take part in a candle-lit vigil in front of the offices of the United Nations headquarters in Beirut
Image caption A candle-lit vigil in Beirut for the Syrian victims

Footage of an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians in Damascus has sparked reaction around the world, dividing opinion about whether or not it will change the course of the war in Syria.

Commentators from Europe, Turkey and Israel debate if a new red line has been crossed, or if, as a Spanish paper puts it, red lines have become "elastic".

Iranian and Russian media are sceptical about the authenticity of the footage, with some saying the Syrian opposition has more to gain from it.

And in Syria itself, state TV is relaying official denials about the attack. The reports are "completely devoid of truth and are part of a media war against Syria" waged by "seditious and misleading channels", it quotes the army as saying.

'Second Halabja'

Many commentators don't doubt that the attacks took place, only disagreeing about whether the incident is likely to put pressure on other countries to intervene.

A writer in France's Le Figaro daily says it may be a turning point in the war, even though Washington, Paris and London "would prefer not to help an opposition that is in part controlled by radical Islamists".

"If several hundred, perhaps even a thousand, Syrian civilians really were killed by chemical agents in the south-west of the capital on Wednesday, it will be more difficult to justify doing nothing," the commentator says.

An article in Spain's El Pais newspaper disagrees. It predicts that at most "there will be a new round of sanctions and limited military reinforcements to some rebel groups; measures clearly insufficient to overturn the balance in favour of the so-called rebels". Such measures will only prove that "red lines are actually elastic concepts", the commentary adds.

Turkish newspapers Sabah, Radikal and Vatan describe the latest attack as a "second Halabja", comparing it with Saddam Hussein's chemical attacks on Iraqi Kurds in 1988.

Israeli broadsheets have no doubt that the footage depicts a war crime committed by the Syrian army, but have differing opinions on whether it will change anything.

"There is no chance that the atrocious pictures from Syria will change American or European policy towards the bloody struggle," says an article in Israel's centrist, mass circulation Yediot Aharonot. "The tragedy of Syria lies in the fact that it is not sufficiently important for Western interests... As long as the crisis does not threaten the stability of Jordan and does not endanger its allies Turkey and Israel, the Syrians can continue slaughtering each other undisturbed."

A commentary in Israel Hayom argues that the "massive attack" shows that "Assad has lost the fear and lost the shame" of using chemical weapons. An article in the Jerusalem Post agrees, saying that "ultimately Assad may have determined that the toxicity of his war is too much for the Americans to handle. If that is the case, do not expect Wednesday's alleged incident in Ghouta to be the last gas attack of its kind".

But a writer in Israeli independent broadsheet Ha'aretz says the attack breaks a new taboo which demands a response.

"After the taboos of using artillery, helicopters and missiles on civilians have been broken, the taboo of using unconventional weapons has apparently been shattered as well... What is supposed to be an enlightened world cannot remain silent," the article says.

'Provocation'

Iranian and Russian media cast doubt on the authenticity of the reports.

A headline in Iran's conservative Siyasat-e Ruz daily says they are a "repetition of chemical claims by the West to save the terrorists".

Some of the Russian media appear to be dismissing the reports as an opposition ploy to gain sympathy.

Mass-market daily Moskovskiy Komsomolets wonders if the opposition in Syria is trying to compromise President Assad in the eyes of the UN.

"Against the background of the visit of UN inspectors to the Arab country, this kind of sudden deployment of banned weapons by government forces looks, to put it mildly, absurd. On the other hand, it strongly suggests the possibility of an act of provocation from the opposition willing yet again to blacken the Assad regime," the daily says.

The line from Russian TV is similar. Two of its main broadcasters, Rossiya 1 and REN TV, question the authenticity of the video footage, with REN TV suggesting that the grimaces on the victims' faces "appear to be not after a gas attack, but at the command of the cameraman filming".

Rossiya 1 TV finds "it is all reminiscent of the scenario used by the West in 2003 to legalize its invasion of Iraq". Most channels are downplaying the story, carrying it well down their running lists on the evening news.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.