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Alaa Alyousef via AP

The issue

Russia, Syria, and the U.S. disagree about whether Syria used chemical weapons against its citizens in an April 4 attack. Russia and Syria claim Syria doesn't have chemical weapons, but the U.S. says it has evidence the Syrian government deployed the chemical attack and that Russia knew about it beforehand.

As the international community probes into who was behind the attack, here's what you need to know about chemical weapons:

The facts

A chemical weapon is commonly thought to be a commercial chemical that is used against people to cause mass casualties. But it's not just the chemical used in an attack — it's also the method of deployment, per the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). That means if a country possesses the munitions or equipment to deploy chemicals, but not the chemicals themselves, it is still in violation of humanitarian and criminal laws.

History: Chemical weapons were first used widely in World War I. Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, Japanese Emperor Hirohito, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein have all been responsible for deploying chemical weapons.

Countries with declared chemical weapons production facilities, per the OPCW: Russia, Syria, Iran, China, Iraq, Libya, UK, U.S., France, India, Japan, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, each at various stages in destruction plans.

Syria's accountability: Although Syria is party to the Geneva Gas Protocol, it is not party to the CWC. And because Syria isn't party to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, the court prosecutor can only take up the matter if there is a Security Council resolution authorizing it.

Why it matters

The bottom line is using chemical weapons is a war crime, but no one wants to be tagged with this atrocity.

Go deeper

DOJ cites discrimination in lawsuit against Texas over voting districts

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas, alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Black and Latino voters and has "again diluted the voting strength of minority Texans" when they approved new redistricting maps.

Why it matters: A DOJ assessment of the new districts found that they violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

3 hours ago - World

Biden to warn Putin U.S. will add troops in Eastern Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

Putin meets Biden in Geneva. Photo: Peter Klaunzer - Pool/Keystone via Getty

President Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin when they speak on Tuesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. is prepared to increase its troop presence, capabilities and military exercises on NATO's "eastern flank," a senior administration official told reporters.

Why it matters: The administration believes it's increasingly likely that Putin will order an invasion.

4 hours ago - World

U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

An Olympic-themed sculpture in Beijing on Dec. 1. Photo: Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty Images

The U.S. announced Monday that it will not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott — which won't prevent American athletes from competing — marks a major escalation between the U.S. and China amid already heightened tensions over the CCP's treatment of Muslim minorities, military threats to Taiwan and economic tariffs.