August 21, 2013
Mohammad Salah al-Dien, 26, lives in the east Ghouta town of Zamalka, a few miles outside Damascus. He is a reporter for the private station Televison Now and tells Abdulrahman al-Masri what happened in his hometown early Wednesday morning.
Q: You were in Zamalka at the time of the chemical attack – what happened?
A: Approximately around 2:20 AM, we heard an explosion sound but not a huge explosion. After a few minutes we heard through our walkie-talkies the rebels asking for help and for relief support and maximum alert for medical staff based on the use of chemical weapons.
So I went out of my house to record and document the event but I was surprised with the huge numbers and panic, so I stepped in to act as a paramedic. We relieved as many people as we could with oxygen and medical equipment, but most of the team inhaled the gas during the help of the injured because we were using medical muzzles and not preventing masks. A few minutes later, the symptoms started showing on everyone, including the paramedics and the medical staff, which included blurry vision and weakness.
Some people couldn’t see at all, but after we woke up, we went to civilians’ houses and evacuated whole dead families. After that, the regime targeted Zamalka with mortars and artillery, so we came back to the first medical point to find more corpses of the people who didn’t get relief. As the gas spread, people starting migrating further inside al-Ghouta and couldn’t escape to Damascus because the regime blocked all the roads going from the suburbs to Damascus.
Q: How many medical points (field clinics) are there in Zamalka?
A: Three. They are well-equipped but not ready for such a number [of victims], which led to many deaths because of the inability to help everyone in time.
Q: What is the numbers of deaths in Zamalka now?
A: Documenting the number of dead, wasn’t done in Zamalka because many wounded came from outside Zamalka to the medical points. From Zamalka to the rest of the areas that witnessed the chemical shelling, the dead numbers documented until now total 1,312 with a huge number of missing people. Many of them could be dead.
Q: What happened to you personally?
A: I had blurry vision until I reached a state where I could barely see. That’s when paramedics gave me an atropine shot, hydrocortisone shot and eye drops. After 15 minutes of the medication I felt better but not until after four hours I felt healthy, and until now I have a little difficulty seeing.
Q: How does Zamalka look now?
A: Zamalka is almost empty. Most of the families have fled to other towns near al-Ghouta. No one could escape to Damascus because all the roads leading to the capital were closed by the regime. It’s a humanitarian catastrophe.