Syrian Opposition Says Deadly Chemical Attack Kills Hundreds in Damascus

Grisly footage from suburbs of Damascus appear to show the shocking effects of a chemical weapons strike. But who is behind the attack?

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Bassam Khabieh / REUTERS

A man holds the body of a dead child among bodies of people activists say were killed by nerve gas in the Ghouta region, in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus, on Aug. 21, 2013.

Early morning Wednesday Syrian anti-regime activists started flooding Twitter with accounts of a missile attack on a rebel-controlled suburb east of Damascus. Then the tweets reported hundreds of casualties, possible victims of an alleged chemical weapons attack. A cascade of amateur videos followed the Tweets, showing scores of dead, but not bloodied, bodies, including those of children, in hospital morgues. Doctors and nurses attended victims with blue lips and pink blotches on their skin. Volunteers attempted to resuscitate victims who had stopped breathing, and in other videos men, women and children convulsed or foamed at the mouth (Warning: these videos, collected by well known weapons expert and blogger Brown Moses, contain graphic scenes of death and nudity).

The local medical committees of Jobar and Ain Tarma, the suburbs near where the alleged attack occurred, sent out an urgent appeal. “The disaster is huge, we are out of all kind of medicines, we have used all our stocks from cortisone and atropine.” They said they had administered 25,000 injections of atropine, which is used for resuscitation and as a treatment for nerve gas poisoning.

International condemnation was immediate. Britain said that if confirmed, the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “shocking escalation,” according to Reuters. Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK would raise the issue at the UN Security Council. The Arab League urged the UN, whose chemical weapons inspectors arrived in Syria this week, to inspect the site immediately. In Damascus, the pro-regime Harsta News Network, with more than 12,000 Facebook followers, crowed in triumph. “Finally the Syrian chemicals have been launched,” the administrators wrote. “By the orders of President Bashar Assad….Today at 05.30 in the morning, East Ghouta was targeted with Asadi Chemical weapons and the operation was successfully accomplished. we wait for a detailed summary from our valiant troops to be issued within few hours.”  An hour later the post was deleted (it can be found cached on Google), but not before the post got 69 “likes” and the poster re-commented: “Soon Bashar will not only be the ruler of Syria, he be will the ruler of all the Arab world and the chemical weapons are coming for you scumbags.”

Still, it’s hard to imagine that the Syrian government would be so foolish as to fire chemical weapons on the outskirts of Damascus, three days after the arrival of a UN team tasked with investigating three other incidents of alleged chemical weapons attacks that took place six months ago. Syrian state TV denounced the allegations, saying , “the news broadcasted by some media outlets that chemical weapons have been used in Eastern Ghouta (suburbs) is untrue and baseless…the aim behind broadcasting such reports is to distract the UN investigators away from their mission.”

But what else could the footage be? Even on evidence-based forums dedicated to parsing the facts, accusations flew between pro-and anti-regime supporters: It’s a propaganda ploy by rebels eager to get attention now that investigators finally are in Syria. It’s a sign of Assad’s blithe indifference to international condemnation. Either way the conspiracy theories defy logic – faking footage like that would be a Hollywood-size undertaking, and the repercussions of exposure would be fatal for a movement that has already been tarred by its associations with al-Qaeda and other Islamist jihadi groups. For Assad to launch such an attack now would be a raised middle finger to the international community; a confirmed attack would surely result in staunch ally Russia, as a signatory to the International Convention against Chemical Weapons, reconsidering its support for the regime.

The number of dead – now said by opposition activists to number at least 213 (conditions on the ground have made independent verification impossible) – is far more consistent with a chemical weapons strike than previous alleged attacks that resulted in just a few dozen casualties. But the evidence presented in the videos is still inconclusive, says toxicologist Ralf Trapp, an independent consultant on chemical and biological weapons disarmament who has been following the issue of Syrian chemical weapons closely. “[These videos] appear to show a lot of victims, people are vomiting, they have breathing problems, and there are significant dead. It all looks like it could be an attack with a chemical warfare agent, but it’s impossible to rule out other possible causes.”

Trapp has seen little of the dilated pupils, contortions and massive muscle paralysis that would indicate a powerful nerve agent such as sarin, but that could be due to the bad video quality and amateur footage taken under difficult conditions. Some of the symptoms, such as foaming at the mouth, could point to chlorine gas or some other agent that attacks the lungs. It’s also possible that the victims are suffering from massive oxygen deprivation brought on by the detonation of a fuel explosive in the air just above the attack site that consumes large amounts of oxygen when it ignites. Or, he says, a chemical weapons depot could have been hit by a rocket, releasing agents into the air.

One worrying sign, says Trapp, is the large number of child victims. “That is consistent with a gas or attack on a congested urban area inhabited by families.” The only way to know for sure is to send investigators to the scene immediately. “This is the moment for the UN team to go to the scene. They can inspect the site and do tests, they can talk to victims, and they can analyze blood and tissue samples for traces of nerve agent.” The question is whether or not they can get access to the site. Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, who is in Damascus heading up the UN chemical weapons inspector team there, told TT news agency by telephone that while he had only seen TV footage, the details sounded suspicious, according to Reuters. “It sounds like something that should be looked into.” If a request is lodged with the Secretary General of the UN, he said, “we are in place.” But getting to the site may not be easy. It is under rebel control, and the government—if it is willing to allow the team access— is unlikely to be able to offer a guarantee of safety.  Even if the UN team does manage to visit the site to conduct a conclusive investigation, it will not, by its mandate, be able to assign blame. If the team can’t access the site, it can still interview doctors and victims if the government allows to understand better what happened, says Trapp. If they can’t do either? “Denial of access to the site, or to the doctors and victims, shouldn’t be taken as proof that there was a chemical attack by the regime. But it could be an important indicator.”

—with reporting by Rami Ayesha / Beirut

76 comments
surfphillips
surfphillips

No fly zone?  Don't get involved?  Time to break out a can of whoop ass pronto!  Many of you are history naïve.  This is not the time for paralysis by analysis.  This is the time to send an unforgettable message to the a hole bullies of the world that WMD attacks will be met with extreme force.  I would have the Syrian military and command leadership blown to ashes before the week is out.  Then we can discuss consequences and no fly zones.

Vasco Napoleao
Vasco Napoleao

Of course not. Democracy was built over centuries in Europe and the rest of the western world. But why say that some have to be saved and others don't? I know why but I have to question those decisions

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

News of chemical weapons attack in Syria published one day before the massacre happened - Islamic Invitation Turkey

Islamic Invitation Turkey claims tens of videos were uploaded one day before the reports on chemical weapons use near Damascus in Syria. These evidence shows that the terrorists massacred people then recorded the scenes to deceive people of the world, but they gave themselves up. Terrorists in Syria uploaded the video of their crimes in East Ghouta, Damascus on August 20, 2013 and then blamed Syrian government for the attack at early time of August 21, 2013, says Islamic Invitation Turkey website.

These evidences supposedly show the massacre by terrorists in Syria and their struggle for making people to believe that Syrian Regime behind the massacre. You will see that the terrorists uploaded videos before the massacre their so-called allegation of the time when Syrian Army attacked with chemical weapons).

arvay
arvay

This is clealy a false flag attack, most likely staged by the anti-Assad forces. 

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Syrian Arab News Agency SANA

The General Command of the Army and Armed Forces said that biased channels of misdirection and bloodshed have, as they always do, made false allegations that the Syrian Army used chemical weapons in Damascus Countryside. In a statement issued on Wednesday, the General Command of the Army and Armed Forces affirmed that those allegations are completely baseless and untrue, and they are part of the dirty media warfare on Syria. The General Command reiterated its commitment to fulfilling its national and constitutional duties of combating terrorism everywhere in Syria as part of its duty to protect the country and citizens. The statement said that the allegations of terrorist gangs and the channels that support them about the Syrian Army's use of chemical weapons constitute a desperate attempt to cover up the defeats they are suffering on the ground, and that these allegations reflect their hysteria, disorder and breakdown. The General Command called upon those who bear arms against the state to turn themselves in to the authorities before it's too late.

http://sana.sy/eng/337/2013/08/21/498376.htm

sue82
sue82

You guys MUST understand who are those REBELS, they are TERRORISTS THAT KILL WITHOUT MERCY.
WATCH THE VIDEO OF ONE OF THEM CUT A SOLDIER TAKES HIS HEART OUT AND EATS IT..THESE ARE THE KINDS OF PEOPLE YOUR TAX MONEY IS FUNDING!  IF YOU WANT TO SAVE THE CHILDREN THAT ARE KILLED IN THE MIDDLE EAST, THEN STOP YOUR GOVERNMENT PAYING TO KILL THEM.. THIS IS HAPPENING IN EGYPT AND THROUGH OUT THE ARABIC WORLD.. YOUR MEDIA TELLS YOU IT IS ARAB SPRING BUT IT IS ARAB NIGHTMARE.. CHRISTIANS ARE BEING MURDERED AND OBAMA SAYS NOTHING, AND AS SOON AS ONE OF THE ISLAMIC BROTHERHOOD GETS  ARREST HE TALKS ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS.. THE MB MURDERED HUNDREDS OF POLICEMEN IN EGYPT.. TIME TO SPEAK UP.

sue82
sue82

United States PAID the so called OPPOSITION who are in fact TERRORISTS to bring the ASSAD down, same as they done in Libya, in Iraq and now they are trying in Egypt. United States STOP FUNDING TERRORISTS, STOP BEFORE YOU FIND AMERICA A PILE OF RUBBLE ! OBAMA IS TRYING TO END AMERICA AND HE IS DOING WELL.

THIS IS AS MUCH OF A LIE AS ( WE HAVE FOUND WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION IN IRAQ ) WAKE THE HELL UP.. YOUR MEDIA AND YOUR LEADERS ARE LYING TO YOU.. THEY ARE VIAL AND EVIL.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Russia suggests Syria ‘chemical attack’ was ‘planned provocation’ by rebels

Reports by “biased regional media” about alleged chemical weapons use near Damascus might be “a provocation planned in advance,” says Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich.

“It draws attention to the fact that biased regional media have immediately, as if on command, begun an aggressive information attack, laying all the responsibility on the government,” Lukashevich said in a statement on Wednesday. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry, citing its sources, said that a homemade rocket carrying unidentified chemical substances had been launched from an area controlled by the opposition. 

“A homemade rocket with a poisonous substance that has not been identified yet – one similar to the rocket used by terrorists on March 19 in Khan al-Assal - was fired early on August 21 [at Damascus suburbs] from a position occupied by the insurgents,” Lukashevich said. 

Earlier on Wednesday, conflicting reports emerged of recent chemical weapons use in Syria. This comes on the same day that the UN inspectors arrive in Damascus to investigate allegations of use of toxic arms. The casualty figures range from dozens to almost 1,300 deaths.  

The Russian diplomat stated that it seems as though it was “a provocation planned in advance.” The “criminal action” near Damascus coincided with the beginning of UN experts’ work in Syria - which speaks in favor of such a conclusion.

http://rt.com/news/russia-syria-chemical-attack-801/

Yvonmoua
Yvonmoua

If UN leads this Syria crossing red line, i'am sure Assad will hang up and follow Saddam foot print right way. 

Adrian Jawort
Adrian Jawort

Yup. To join the fight now is to support the most radical elements of Wahhabism. Let's face it: no one is coming out of this mess with a direction of a liberal democracy. Hardened hearts.

wazza17
wazza17

@TIME when I read this it makes me think as a species we haven't advanced much since we left the cave

Ripsaw63
Ripsaw63

@TIME @TIMEWorld the leader of Syria is a piece of garbage to kill is own people with chemical weapons!

drudown
drudown

Breaking News!! 

Arabs are (lo and behold!) killing each other today just as they have for the last thousand years over religious/sectarian disputes that preceded Colonialism. 

Quick! Better invade Syria so we can squander (read: DIVERT) another $4 trillion in US TAXPAYER dollars to "protect them" from each other by (what else) "arming and training" a puppet government we prop up with the staying power of popsicle sticks and duct tape.

In other news, the GOP seeks to repeal the New Deal in its pretext to "defund" Obamacare...

nesfany
nesfany

@TIME @TIMEWorld and you care ? Seriously?! Too bad they have no oil or the marines would be storming Damascus right now

dmquez
dmquez

@TIME @TIMEWorld 5 seconds of footage have left me in tears. My prayers are with these kids and their families & the Syrian people affected

Eric Lin
Eric Lin

I thought Obama talked about some red line if chemical weapons were used, lol.

YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

Without diminishing the gravity of the question, Who ordered the murderous attack by mass killing weapon on innocent civilians, the more important question is, Why this order was obeyed? On both sides the execution of illegal order is dependent upon the willingness of the whole chain of command to blindly obey orders suppressing any moral reservation that any human being is supposed to have. In a democratic army the soldier is taught to recognize unlawful orders and understand that his duty is to disobey them just as he's required to obey the lawful ones. The Arab fighting forces obviously to not adhere to this practice, which is the essential inoculation means against dictatorship. The validity of this argument is proven daily throughout the Middle-East, not only in Syria. Read the other headlines in this section of TIME to understand why there is no democracy in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen or Libya, amongst many others. You can't impose a democracy from above, it must be a grassroots process based on humane solidarity without any hatred towards the different. It is the responsibility of the educated class to water these grassroots.

cdblnr
cdblnr

Maybe Obama can draw another line in the sand, but this time raise his voice and look really mean, like someone mugging an old lady.  Then I bet those Syrian army guys will be really scared!

Andor_2001
Andor_2001

OK, I found the cashed message. But it was not what you claim.  Are this people so devious that they changed the cashed text?
H.N.N | Harsta News Network

Urgent # _ channel _ Sama-In
Chinese satellite reveals the secret chemical attack on Damascus, and serious warnings to the U.S. embassy in Beijing:
In leaking dangerous to our correspondent Hadi al-Musawi in Beijing, said Chung and Ling Yu, head of Air Force Intelligence Chinese that the Chinese discovered a violation of the Syrian airspace, where the pilot specter of the B-35 to enter the Syrian border at an altitude of 46 km and threw tens of cluster bombs, chemical on the East Gouta taking advantage of the opportunity of the presence of international observers to stick the charge prepackaged and are accusing the beloved President Bashar al-Assad using chemical against the defenseless population,
It is noteworthy that this experimental model and strictly confidential and but Chinese hackers brave the managed code decoder of the White House and NASA in cooperation with the Syrian army black-mail and leaked a large amount of secrets about American imperialism arms projects

branchltd
branchltd

The extent and nature of the attacks suggests delivery by heavy artillery, which narrows the list of leading suspects to one.

JC Catalano
JC Catalano

Most chemical weapons in Syria are USA made - any questions?

Wende Bradley Hernandez
Wende Bradley Hernandez

Angelo Bustonera: do some investigating yourself instead of being spoonfed by the media....

ScallywagNYC
ScallywagNYC

With the latest violence and the use of social media to publicize the atrocities at hand, the world is once again reminded of the bitter unresolved tensions being played out via an often under reported proxy war courtesy of neighboring states and that of the US and regional super powers,China and Russia....

Of course the question now is who's hand will be forced now? Can we really believe the latest assertions or is this just another episode of a publicly fought war using any propaganda to exert pressure...?

http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2013/08/syrian-rebels-claim-assad-government-kills-1300-with-nerve-gas-claims-denied/

RobiRob
RobiRob

If it can validate an attack, the US and its allies need to take immediate concrete action.  It's long past time for a no-fly zone, but late is better than never.  We simply can't allow more innocent civilians to be continually butchered by the Assad regime, and not even raise a finger to try to stop it

littleredtop
littleredtop

The situation depicted in these clips is too obvious to be anything other than a gas accident.  Obviously an opposition owned gas canister, shown on it's side in the film, either fell over opening the valve as it struck the floor, or it was stored on it's side and one of the children may have opened the valve. Both sides have gas and the opposition is eager to blame Syria's sovereign government for anything that might help them garner the support of the west. 

JohnDahodi
JohnDahodi

No one can even imagine that the Assad's regime is fool to this extent; used chemical weapons and kill 100 civilians, when the U.N. Inspectors are in the town for finding any clue. The U. N. must inspect the sources of this chemicals and how and who has used? But we know, very well the outcome, if you remember of the Kuwait war; how it was started and Iraq war; how the U.N. was fooled? If the West, like to have FULL DESTRUCTION OF SYRIA, there will be; today or tomorrow, no one can STOP it.

falcon269
falcon269

Your reporter is in Beirut. Does she have anything except the opposition representation that chemical weapons were used? They have consistently lied in the past. She should be a bit more skeptical.

Vasco Napoleao
Vasco Napoleao

What now? What are western powers going to do? Look to the other side and say that there is no proof?

Domingos Manjolo BomAno Manjolo
Domingos Manjolo BomAno Manjolo

I think it´s a genocide, but people all over the world is looking for this episode as something for joking, i ask myself, where this world is going? What the UN is waitting for? Are we living in this situation for more times? For God´s sake we have to do something show how many people are dying in Siria.

abuzarhamza
abuzarhamza

@Sibir_Russia : some one has died that does not matter from which side and it seems that even from the fact that chemical weapon too has been used (does not matter which side have used it) .. But still this will not make the Gov of Asad make a justified one ...

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

They even do not have any mercy for the children and used them just to deceive people of the world. They gathered all civilians, children, women to certain areas and then kill them brutally then accuse Syrian Regime in order to legalize their brutality.

GRAPHIC VIDEO 18+

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Even if we regard the chemical attack as the 03: 30, it is impossible to take the film of the scene and uploading those tens of videos… this shows that terrorists prepared, organized all of the scenes beforehand then accused Syrian regime for a massacre that terrorists did. the more those terrorists come to an end the more they become brutal. 

lapazjim
lapazjim

@drudown So I take it you are one of those fools that believes whatever Obama says is fact,gospel fact.Sorry you have been brainwashed well by Obama.If Obama told you the sky was falling and it is the GOP'S fault you would most likely believe it.

No one has said the US is going to invade Syria!! No one has said the US is going to arm and train a puppet government.These are assumptions and we all know what they say about that! The statement Obama had made about a red line and consequences needs to be backed up.Should it be the US?NO! It should however be other countries joining together to put a stop to the unneeded bloodshed.France is taking a step,but are they going o be the only country with any HUEVOS to do it or are others going to join in.The main deterrent to many countries is Russia as they back Assad.So what Russia is not about to send in troops(they are supplying Assad with weapons though)as they know that could possibly lead to drawing the US into it even more.

The decision has to be made by the European Union and any others to put an end to this.If there is an overwhelming show of force by foreign countries in Syria the Assad Regime will most likely crumble.The question is who actually did any chemical attacks and who is going to pay for the crime after this is all over.

drudown
drudown

"All bad precedents began as justifiable measures." - Julius Caesar

abbotart
abbotart

@Andor_2001 Assad and the Alawites will pay for their murders of the innocent. You will be judged by courts in this world or by God. You have killed innocents and slaughtered God's creations like sheep but you only bring God's wrath on you. You are doomed to fail ... will loose all power you have enjoyed for many years while you murderous evil alawites ran Syria

YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

@Andor_2001 You must learn how to fabricate fancy news. First, don't make silly mistakes that can be checked by Googling. Like, 1. The supposed B-35 is a '40s experimental bomber that was never built. 2. no airplane can fly at altitude of 46 km as there is not enough air at that height to support aerodynamic lift. 3. Cluster bombs kill by conventional explosion and steel shrapnel, not by releasing poisonous chemicals. 4. The Chinese have no intelligence assets that can discover a violation of Syrian airspace, identify the intruder and pin-point his means of attack. Essentially, it is not enough to have some pitiful command of English to became a world class propagandist.  

abbotart
abbotart

@ScallywagNYC Assad and his Alawite army are evil. The alawites are a secretive group that have wild orgies, have sacrifices and worship stars and other black magic. This is not propaganda but FACT

abbotart
abbotart

@littleredtop The only ones capable of delivering chemical warheads are the Syrian army and the Alawites. So how you can assume that the opposition could possibly have a hand in this is obviously wrong!

abbotart
abbotart

@JohnDahodi This is not the Kuwait war ... it is the Alawites vs Syrians. The Alawites are an evil secretive group that realize they will loose all power in Syria due to the mass killings of innocent Syrians. So they kill relentlessly hoping the other side will give up to keep their power and rule the country.

drudown
drudown

@lapazjim @drudown 

Ps. you improperly assume that (1) the EU [or ANY coalition or Allied Force of the US, EU and Russia] could "end" conflict in ANY Arab State by some mere "decision" and (2) that there has to be some "retribution" for the use of chemical weapons. 

The last time I heard such unfounded logic, Bush/Cheney duped us into invading Iraq. 

$4 trillion and counting? Let's cut bait, not blend and extend our stay. 

drudown
drudown

@lapazjim @drudown 

Spare me your grade-school straw man arguments. If I am, as you allege, "brainwashed" by President Obama, perhaps you could be so kind to expound upon how his efforts to improve access to Health Care for me is some "disservice" compared to the GOP idiots talking about "shutting down the government" for no lawful reason whatsoever. You and your corrupted ilk seem to think dispensing snarky insults and misleading innuendo somehow ameliorates your burden of proof. You have ZERO substantive rebuttal to my points. Worse still, you naively imply simply because "no one has said the US is going to invade Syria" that your assessment is not contradicted by calls from Tennessee's Senator to have "random strikes" so that we can create more chaos and now place the US taxpayers "on the hook"? Get real.

If your GOP and (ahem) Libertarian factions therein has any semblance of "strict constructionism" in you, there should be NO DEBATE that our government of LIMITED POWERS has no DUTY nor AUTHORITY whatsoever to DIVERT US taxpayer dollars to keep Arabs from killing other Arabs, or Persians from killing Persians or each other. 

What, the mere "fact" some entity- which we have no idea which faction- used chemical weapons somehow "changes everything"? I call Bull &%$#. First of all, there is nothing the US can do to stave off civil war that is the proximate result of the Arab elite hoarding ALL the wealth from the masses and then creating some bogus nexus to Israel and the US as to why, in the end, their lives are impoverished.

The US needs to be resolute that we cannot be drawn into fiscally imprudent military conflicts when the GOP REFUSES to RAISE ANY REVENUE.

Sorry, you don't get your cake and eat it too.

Seems like President Obama is learning from the mistakes his GOP predecessor made in Iraq. So should you.