WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a committee hearing on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling this hearing. Thank you for your leadership in working so closely with me to help the Syrian people. My heart grieves for the Syrian people. I only wish that we had made some different policy choices in Washington three years ago, when the free Syria army was begging us to aid and equip them. And, I said then, put in legislation then, that we should have equipped them, and perhaps, things would be different today in Syria.

“I know we’re still trying to find our way, but when we didn’t equip them, we had the terrorist group ISIS move into the void, and it’s just been a disaster. But we still have to pay attention, and still have to right the wrongs, and still have to let the Syrian people know that we stand with them, that we’re not forgetting about them, and that we’re not going to stop until these atrocities stop.

“Over the last four years, the civil war in Syria has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, left millions displaced, and created a lost generation of Syrian orphans. As their nation has been torn apart, the Syrian people have faced a stark choice: flee their country as refugees or live every day under the threat of Assad’s barrel bombs.

“Perhaps the worst chapter in this conflict came in August 2013, when the Assad regime used sarin gas to wipe out hundreds of people in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Before this massacre—only the second time sarin had been used since World War II—President Obama said that a chemical-weapons attack would be a “red line.”

“As Congress and the Administration contemplated military action, Assad backed down. At that point, he agreed to give up his entire chemical weapons stockpile and sign the Chemical Weapons Convention. Last June, the Joint Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons—the OPCW—and the United Nations announced that all of these weapons had been removed from Syria.

“But now, true to form, Assad is testing the international community again. In September, the OPCW concluded, and I quote with "a high level, a high degree of confidence" unquote, that chlorine was used, and this is a quote again, "systematically and repeatedly" in attacks in northern Syria. Since then, more chlorine attacks have been reported. Though not as deadly as sarin, the use of weaponized chlorine is still a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

“Dropping from the sky in Assad’s barrel bombs, these chlorine attacks have killed or wounded hundreds. Innocent civilians have lived in terror, knowing what to expect when helicopters appeared on the horizon. No one should have to live with that kind of fear. That’s why Chairman Royce and I offered a measure which passed the House last month to direct the Pentagon to take a hard look at the possibility of a no-fly zone.

“In recent months, Assad has appeared increasingly vulnerable. Sadly, that has only made his tactics more desperate and violent. Assad remains a magnet for extremists, and as long as he remains in power, Syria will not find peace. He holds absolutely no place in Syria’s future.

“Today’s testimony will help us shape U.S. policy towards the Assad regime at a critical point in the Syrian conflict. I look forward to hearing from our distinguished panel. I’m glad to see Ambassador Ford here again, who’s been to this committee a number of times. And Ambassador, we’re always praising your good work, the good work that you have done in the past, and the good work that you continue to do. And I look forward to our other witnesses as well. Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back.”


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