August 21, 2013
By Nuha Shabaan and Abdulrahman al-Masri
AMMAN: Syrians in the eastern suburbs of Ghouta and the western town of Moadimiyah are reeling from what they say were overnight attacks by regime rockets equipped with sarin gas that killed civilians in the hundreds.
Dozens of rockets reportedly slammed into towns such as Zamalka, Douma, Ein Tarma, Hammouriya and others between 2am and 7am Wednesday morning. As the death toll climbs, a team of UN inspectors is grounded at the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus waiting for a green light to begin an investigation into alleged chemical attacks in north Syria from this past March.
While the state media admitted military operations were taking place in east Ghouta, government outlets were quick to respond on Wednesday. There is “absolutely no truth” about the charges that chemical weapons were used, state media reported, adding that the opposition was attempting to sabotage the mission of the UN inspection team currently sitting in Damascus.
The alleged use of weapons is a “desperate attempt to cover up defeats on the ground and represents a manifestation of the state of hysteria, confusion and collapse” amidst the “terrorist gangs,” the General Command of the Army and Armed Forces said in a statement.
The opposition media’s outlets online, particularly on Facebook and YouTube, swelled with hundreds, if not thousands, of videos allegedly from field hospitals where cameras panned over dozens of children and women, limp and pale, as they waited for treatment. Overstretched staff and family members in video after video were seen pouring water on victims and vinegar into their mouths to revive them.
One haunting clip showed a panoramic view of the floor of a makeshift hospital. The camera then hones in on a boy, perhaps five years old, on the floor as frantic men try to revive him with water. One man performed CPR on the child. Small amounts of foam come out of his mouth, but the boy does not wake up. A sobbing man, presumably a family member, picks him up and tries to shake him awake. The clip ends as the unresponsive child lies motionless in the man’s arms.
Doctors and activists said the symptoms they were seeing include coughing, seizures, nausea and hallucinations, and are consistent with sarin gas poisoning.
“The UN team must visit these places, which are only a few kilometers away from where the team is based in Damascus,” the Syrian Coalition said in a statement, adding that the alleged chemical attacks “occurred alongside a regime advance by tanks toward Jobar and Moadimiyah.” The two towns are located west and east of the capital.
“At around 2:20am, we heard an explosion and then rebels said on their walkie-talkies that a chemical attack had taken place,” said Mohammed Salah a-Din, a journalist with the opposition network Television Now based in Zamalka, one of the east Damascus suburbs allegedly attacked with chemical weapons by the regime.
A-Din said he emerged from his home to find panic in the streets, and because he was wearing a homemade mask while trying to transport victims to field hospitals, “after a few minutes the symptoms started showing on everyone, including the paramedics.”
The journalist described suffering from blurry vision and weakness. “We evacuated whole dead families and then the regime began targeting Zamalka with mortars and artillery.”
The panic that ensued was partially due to regime roadblocks in the area, a-Din said.
Supplies of atropine and hydrocortisone supplies used to treat chemical attacks are low, as are stocks of oxygen masks, said Douma LCC spokesman Yasser, who conducted a tour of field hospitals in East Ghouta towns and asked that only his first name be used.
“Doctors are calling for more supplies to increase the number of survivors,” Yasser said.
As the West wondered why the regime would possibly conduct such deadly attacks, with activists placing the death toll at more than 1,300, Syrians opposed to the regime say they are not surprised, as they have lived with the Assad dynasty for 40 years and know their tactics well. Whether in diplomacy over the decades or throughout the course of this war, the Assad family strategy has relied on the iron fist, and not negotiations, to achieve its goals.
Activists demanded UN inspectors visit east Ghouta to see for themselves whether chemical weapons had been used.
Douma LCC spokesman Yasser echoed other Syrian civilians and activists Syria Direct interviewed for this report who directly correlate what they call the UN team’s ineffectiveness with international complicity in the attacks.
“The international team is residing in the Four Seasons in Damascus, enjoying their morning coffee and carefully watching the regime’s endgame – this is the will of the international community.”
Inspection team chief Swedish professor Åke Sellström confirmed to Swedish news agency TT that he had seen television footage of the attacks, but said he could not make any determination based on video alone.
“But such a high number of dead and injured does sound suspicious. It sounds like something that should be looked at,” Sellström said, adding that UN member states set the inspectors’ agenda.