By Jacob Wirtschafter and Ahmed Kwider
May 30, 2013
AMMAN: Repeated use of gas against civilians and Free Syrian Army fighters northeast of Damascus in the industrial city of Adra is taking the Syrian conflict to a new level as the Syrian government tests the limits of the international community on the chemical weapons issue, according to local human rights groups, rebel fighters and their civilian supporters.
“The regime has used chemicals against al-Islam Brigade fighters in Adra three times because it is a large-scale battle and the area is important,” said FSA Revolutionary Command Council member Mohammed Said who is based in the nearby town of Douma.
Just 25km from the Damascus city center, Adra is home to the largest concentration of industrial facilities in Syria and the military base there popularly known as a former storage depot for the Syrian Army’s Chemical Division.
While the non-conventional weapons were reportedly removed from this location last December, control of the sprawling base has been hotly contested for months with the FSA holding the area around the Medical Battalion and the government’s army keeping its grip on the Signals Division, just meters away.
Said, the activist, brought his video camera to the medical center in Adra as 40 patients injured from chemical injuries were admitted.
“Doctors suspect sarin gas was used because of symptoms of vomiting, fibrillation, unclear vision and dyspnea,” said the 36-year old activist who posted aftermath video footage of last Friday’s attack.
While FSA sources say the regime withdrew its non-conventional arsenal from the town last year, the government remains locked in a battle for the strategic base at Adra with the army threatened from the south by advances from rebel-controlled Douma along the Damascus-Homs highway.
“The FSA took some checkpoints from the regime last Friday before sunrise and was about to reach the Medina Amaliyya [Adra’s “Labor City,”] said Mustafa Abu Hamzeh, a member of Douma’s Local Coordination Council.
The regime had to use chemical weapons to prevent the FSA from advancing further, Abu Hamzeh said.
Abu Hamzeh said the regime has used chemical weapons in Adra three times in the past two months.
“The targeted area was between Labor City and Adra’s town center. There are civilians there and deaths happened in the industrial zone, which is still under the regime control,” said the self-described moderate Islamic supporter of the FSA.
Since Friday’s attack on Adra, the pro-revolution Sham News Network has reported an additional instance of gas used by government troops along the main road northeast of Damascus in Harasta on Monday, May 27th.
The Damascus-based Victims Documentation Center released a report earlier this month on the use of chemical-loaded grenades against FSA troops in nearby Jobar. The report describes how four men arrived for treatment of symptoms related to gas exposure, including respiratory problems and blurred vision, with another 28 presenting the following day with identical medical conditions.
“The key reason these weapons are being used is that the regime faces a grave danger from opposition forces in strategic places,” said Bassam al-Ahmad, spokesman for the Victims Documentation Center.
“At the same time it is checking the pulse of the international community, beginning with its use of tanks, then to Scud missiles and now use of chemical weapons,” al-Ahmed said, adding that the international community’s lack of action is spurring on the regime.
“When the regime noticed the silence, they started using them more and more,” al-Ahmed said.