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Deadly chemical attack a year ago has paid off for Assad

Deadly chemical attack a year ago has paid off for Assad

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BEIRUT (AP) — The year since a chemical attack that killed hundreds near Damascus has been a strikingly good one for President Bashar Assad.

His deadly stockpile has been destroyed, but he has stayed in power, bought time and gotten world powers to engage him. Along the way, global disapproval has shifted away from Assad and toward the Islamic extremists who are fighting him and spreading destruction across Syria and Iraq.

In Syria, frustrated opposition leaders plan modest rallies today to commemorate an attack that they believe the world has largely forgotten.

For many Syrians, hopes for justice are fading, and a deep sense of bitterness prevails. The U.S., which threatened to strike Assad's forces but backed away at the last minute, is now bombing the Islamic State group in neighboring Iraq.

Calls for Assad's ouster are no longer made publicly by Western officials.

"This is one anniversary that all free Syrians would love to forget. It was the beginning of the end of U.S. and international involvement in the Syrian conflict," said Bilal Saab, a senior fellow for Middle East Security at the Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

The U.S. reversal capped what many Syrians had long seen as a flippant approach to the uprising.

"There has been an intention, from the beginning, to bury the Syrian revolution," said Hassan Taqieddine of eastern Ghouta, the Damascus suburb struck a year ago by rockets carrying chemical agents.

The Aug. 21, 2013, attack is almost certainly the single deadliest event in Syria's civil war.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called it the "worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century."

A swift U.N. probe's limited mandate did not authorize its experts to identify who was responsible for the attack.

The Syrian opposition and its allies, including the U.S., accused Damascus. Assad's government blamed the rebels.

The Obama administration threatened to carry out punitive airstrikes against the Syrian government, touching off diplomatic efforts that eventually resulted in Assad accepting a deal to relinquish his chemical arsenal.

"The truth is that after the chemical weapons deal, Assad became a partner, and after ISIS, he became a necessity, the lesser of two evils," Saab said.

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