Special Reports  ::   An Update of the Special Report Published in 18 April 2014 titled: Syria Is Choking Again)


An Update of the Special Report Published in 18 April 2014

Under the title

 (Syria Is Choking Again)

Syrian Regime Brings the Chemical and Poisonous Weapons Back to Its Military Arsenal in 2014

Violation Documentation Center

24-05-2014

 

 

Introduction: From the beginning of this year until the date of this report, VDC has been monitoring the use of chemical and poisonous weapons by the Syrian Regime. On the basis of the symptoms suffered by most casualties, chlorine gas is believed to have been used at many sites and nerve-originated gases in others.

a report documenting 14 targeted sites since the beginning of the year was released on 18 April 2014. After that, new incidents of chemical and toxic gases use at various sites during the Syrian internal conflict were detected. Consequently, VDC deemed it appropriate to release an update of the previous report, to include the period from 18 April 2014 to 29 April 2014. In this new report, six new cases are detailed.

An updated table showing the use of chemical and toxic gases in Syria since the beginning of 2014:

 

Method

 

The Target

Civilian/Military

 

fatalities

 

Casualties

 

  Year

2014

 

The Area

 

#

 

Grenade

Military

4

10

13 Jan

Darayya,

Damascus Countryside

1

Grenade

Military

4

20

2 March

Adra, Damascus Countryside

2

Grenade

Military

0

5

9 March

Jobar,Damascus

3

Unknown

Military

7

25

28 March

Harasta, Damascus Countryside

4

Unknown

Civilian

0

10

1 April

Jobar,Damascus

5

Grenade

Military

6

0

4 April

Jobar,Damascus

6

Unknown

Military

3

4

11 April

Harasta, Damascus Countryside

7

Air bombardment with explosive barrels

Civilian

1

100

11 April

Kafr Zita, Hama

8

Air bombardment with explosive barrels

Civilian

0

25

12 April

Kafr Zita, Hama

9

Air bombardment with explosive barrels

Civilian

0

13

12 April

Taman'a, Idlib

10

Air bombardment with explosive barrels

Civilian

0

25

14 April

Atshan, Hama

11

Air bombardment with explosive barrels

Unknown

Unknown

Unknown

15 April

Zor al-Hisa, Hama

12

Unknown

Unknown

1

15

16 April

Harasts, Damascus Countryside

13

Air bombardment with explosive barrels

Civilian

0

7

16 April

Kafr Zita, Hama

14

Air bombardment with explosive barrels

Civilian

0

100

18 April

Kafr Zita, Hama

15

Air bombardment with explosive barrels

Civilian

3

50

18 April

Taman'a, Idlib

16

Air bombardment with explosive barrels

Civilian

3

400

21 April

Talmins, Idlib

17

Unknown

Military

0

11

22 April

Darayya,

Damascus Countryside

18

Air bombardment with explosive barrels

Civilian

0

3

26 April

Tebat al-Imam Hama

19

Air bombardment with explosive barrels

Civilian

0

7

29 April

Taman'a, Idlib

20

 

 

15-Kafer Zita, Hama (18 April 2014)

Kafer Zita in Hama was exposed to bombardment with explosive bombs loaded with chlorine, according to Dr. Hasan A'araj (Hama Health Department Director). He stated, "The city was targeted again with explosive barrels, which led to more than a hundred civilian casualties whom we received in the hospital" 

Dr. Hasan stressed that the symptoms suffered by the casualties resembled those suffered by others when the city was targeted before. These symptoms are "suffocating, dry cough, blood cough, oral froth, and vomiting". He added, "members of the medical cadre suffered the same symptoms when they were helping the casualties received in the hospital"

Activists released a video shot inside the field hospital of Kafer Zita, showing a doctor helping people (women and the medical cadre) who were infected.  This was the fourth time Kafer Zita has been shelled with chlorine-loaded explosive barrels.

 

16-Taman'a, Idlib (18 April 2014)

The regime forces targeted Taman'a for the second time with chlorine-loaded explosive barrels on 18 April according to Mr. Ahmad al-Bakri, a diploma student who lives in Taman'a who spoke with us via Skype. During the attack, three people in one family died. Only a girl from this family survived. The victims are:

 

AbulNaser Hasan al-Susi, his wife Amina Mustafa Iskander and their baby Muhammad AbdulNaser Hasan al-Susi who had been displaced from the nearby Khan Sheikhoun city.
 On that day the number of casualties was estimated at fifty, according to Idlib News Network.

Some of the casualties were transferred to Khan Sheikhoun. A doctor in the medical point there mentioned having witnessed symptoms including irritation of the skin, and irritation and redness of the eyes accompanied by breathing problems due to lesions caused by chlorine in the mucous membranes.

Mr. Ahmad added that there is a severe shortage of equipment in the medical point, in addition to the lack of a medical cadre capable of dealing with such injuries, especially when such huge numbers of casualties are involved.

 

17-Talmins, Idlib (21 April 2014)

Talmins town is in Idlib, 2 km from the strategic Wadi al-Dayf Camp near Ma'arrat al-No'man in the north-west of Syria. The area around the Camp is being subjected to major and continuous military operations. Media activists reported that the town had been targeted with chlorine-loaded explosive barrels.  Mr. Abu Ghaith, a field researcher in VDC team, consequently headed to Talmins the next day, to verify the incident. He reported the following:

"On Tuesday 22 April 2014, I visited Talmins to look into the news of the bombardment with chlorine-loaded explosive barrels. I conducted several interviews, observed the targeted area and gathered the following information:

On Monday 21 April 2014, at about 11:00 am, Talmins town in Idlib, to the east of Ma'arrat al-No'aman, was shelled with explosive barrels containing poisonous gases. Two barrels were dropped on the town by the regime via helicopter.  The barrels fell to the north-east of the Grand Mosque. The first one fell on the house of Mr. Abdulrazak Hashash, and according to eyewitnesses and the families of the victims it exploded, producing greenish yellow fumes.  Meanwhile the other fell on the house of Mr.Ahmad Abdulhadi Barakat (al-Omari) leaving a 60cm depth hole. This barrel did not explode but it cracked and the gas leaked."

 

Here we include the testimonies Mr.Abu Ghaith collected from the town's residents on the day after the attack:

 

-Khaled Hashash, 40-year old worker, 40 years old who lives on the western side of the town:

"on Monday 21 April 2014, the sound of a helicopter was heard hovering over the town.  Then there was a whistling sound, which indicates the fall of an explosive barrel - a sound with which we were familiar for the town had been targeted several times before. We went out to see what had happened. When we got near to the Grand Mosque where the barrel fell, we found the in a panic. I walked towards the fumes where I found that the barrel had fallen on my brother Abdulrazak Hashash's house. There were 11 people inside the house; three males including a seven-year-old child who died as a result of inhaling the toxic gases, and the rest were my two sisters-in-law, a lady, and my nieces, who suffered different degrees of injuries. Four of them were moved to Turkey due to the seriousness of their injuries, including my sisters-in-law Miriam and Sanaa, my niece Maryouma and the lady that was with them inside the house named Khadija Muhammad Barakat."

 

Khaled said that his brother, Abdurazak, survived because he was outside the house at the time.

He added that a great number of the people who rushed to the house to help were hospitalized as well, due to their inhaling of the gases.  He also said that the animals his brother was raising were infected by the toxic gases, and even the leaves of the trees inside the house.  (End of testimony).

*An image showing the area where the explosive barrel loaded with chlorine was dropped in Mr. Abdulrazak Hashash house

 

*Image of the exploded barrel on which the writing reads NORINCO

 

Maryouma Abdulrazak Hashash, who's the child martyr Mahmoud Abdulrazak Hashash's sister and Ms. Khadija Muhammad Barakat were both hospitalized to a Turkish hospital and died after four days on 25 April 2014 as the treatment failed. Thus, the number of casualties resulted in this attack are a lady and two children; a brother and a sister.

 

 

Mr.Osama, a 24-year old grocer, who lives in Talmins and who was an eyewitness of the incident, said:

"at about 11 in the morning of Monday 21 April 2014, one of the regime's helicopters was hovering over the town. A few seconds later, a whistle was heard followed by the fall of explosive barrels on the town. Shortly after that, an explosion was heard and then a cloud of smoke rose.  Surprisingly, the fumes were greenish yellow. We were about 700m to the west of the targeted location and the fumes were moving eastward with the wind"

 

-Othman, a 39-year old tradesman who owns the house next to the targeted house of Abdulrazak Hashash, said:

"At eleven o'clock in the morning, I got out my shop to the sound of a helicopter hovering over the town and then dropping two barrels on it. A few seconds later, one of those barrels landed on Abdulrazak Hashash's house, about forty meters from where I was standing with other people. As a result of the massive explosion, we fell down.  Then we saw a cloud of greenish yellow fumes rising from the place of the explosion. The smoke spread over an area with ​​a radius of more than 30 meters before it moved eastward with the wind."

The smoke began to reach Othman and the people with him while they were still on the ground, , forcing them to get up and into cars to move away from the site of the explosion.

Never having seen the yellow smoke before, the residents were surprised and panicked, rushing into the streets chaotically and causing many car accidents in the process.

Othman said that the second barrel fell on the house of Ahmad Abdulhadi Barakat Omari, to the east of the Grand Mosque and the house of Abdulrazak Hashash where the first barrel had fallen. Othman also said that the second barrel had not exploded, yet caused a hole in the house's backyard.  This yard was used to raise livestock, many of which died.

 

He added that the trees in his house, especially the vine, were infected by their contact with the fumes.

*An image that shows the infected vine

 

Rashad Darfeel, a 36-year old carpenter who got infected by the gas, said:

At eleven o'clock on Monday morning, when he was at a funeral wake near his house, to the east of Abdulrazak Hashash's and Ahmad Abdulhadi Barakat Omari's houses, a helicopter dropped two barrels.  Because of the explosion and the greenish yellow fumes, he ran back to his house to check his wife and five children (four boys and a girl). On his way home, the fumes heading eastward touched his skin and he inhaled it. This left a bad taste in his throat and a smell like chlorine so he knew it was a toxic gas. When he arrived home, he found his children in the bathroom pouring water on their bodies, following the safety procedures set out in the guiding brochure that he had brought the day before.

 

He then took his family out to a safer place.  On the way there, however, he started to have breathing difficulties, a pain in his chest, a rapid heart rate, fatigue and nausea. Accordingly, he was hospitalized to Jarjanaz Hospital where it took more than an hour and a half for his normal condition to return with the help of oxygen and sprays.

*An image showing the witness Rashad Darfeel next to the hole made by the second barrel which landed in Ahmad Barakat House

 

 

-Dr.Wasel al-Jrk, a 28-year old general surgeon in al-Sediq Hospital, said:

The doctor told our centre that casualties arrived at al-Sediq Hospital with gas poisoning symptoms from eleven in the morning, according to the medical report signed by him and included in this report. There were 300 casualties during the first hour after the attack, and another 100 cases in Jarjanaz Hospital. Some cases were transferred to Saraqeb Hospital.

50 out of the 400 cases were serious ones. A child named Mahmoud Abdulrazak Hashash died, while four other cases were transferred immediately to Turkey due to their urgent need of intensive care. These cases suffered loss of consciousness, shivering and narrowness of the iris.

 

During the following 24 hours, 30 cases returned to the hospital despite prior treatment, due to repeats in their suffering of the symptoms of poisoning.

An image of the medical report made by Dr. Wasel al-Jrk

 

Our center used Skype to contact Dr.Abdulrahman al-Jisri, a neurological surgeon who is the director of al-Sediq Islamic Hospital in Ma'arat al-No'aman's eastern countryside. He described the symptoms of the injured as being hardness of breath, spasms, coughing, bronchial spasm, epiphora, hallucinations, and attacks of hysterics. “About twenty cases were put under intensive care. A state of panic prevailed at the hospital. We offered the injured treatments including bronchodilators, oxygen, sprays, adrenaline injections, Atropine injections and Pralidoxime. We also suspected low levels of sodium and sugar so we provided these through salt serums”. 

 

When asked about the nature of the gas used in theses attacks, he replied that it was mainly "chlorine" mixed with some other toxic gases.

He also pointed out the acute shortage of equipment and medicines such as insulating clothing, oxygen cylinders, Salbutamol sprays and bronchodilators.

VDC has also contacted journalist Anas Ma'arawi via Skype. He stated that "the residents began fleeing the town westward for fear of the effects of the gas. They panicked and, knowing the regime army forces were in the western side of the town, they fled to Ma'arshouma village only."

Mr. Abu Ghaith (VDC) filmed two videos showing the location of the shelling in Mr. Abdulrazak Hashash house and Ahmad Barakat house.

In accord with all the documented cases of the rural areas of Hama and Idlib, activist Anas Ma'arawi stated that the warplanes that targeted Talmins took off from Hama Miliary Airport.

*Image of an injured child in Telmens Hospital 21-04-2014

 

18-Darayya, in the vicinity of Damascus (22 April 2014)

The use of chemical toxic gases was also reported in Darayya near Damascus, a city which was exposed to attacks with chemical toxic gases a year beforehand on 25 April 2013 when several casualties suffering narrowness in the iris were reported, and on 13 January 2014 when four martyrs fell and ten people were injured.

This is the third time VDC has monitored the use of chemical toxic gases in the city. According to Mr. Amjad al-Abbar, an anesthetist and relation manager in Darayya medical point, one injured person arrived at the hospital with symptoms including hardness of breath, coughing, a minor rash, and tracheal injuries. The victim was treated with bronchodilators, oxygen and antihistamines. A couple of hours later, he began to recover. As for the rest of the injured, they did not need to be hospitalized for their symptoms were minor ones which disappeared in a short period of time, because they had used masks and some alkaline solutions.

 

VDC has also contacted Mr. Muhanad Abulzein from Darayya, who is the spokesperson of Darayya Local Council. He said:

"On 22 April, many fighters at the battle front were exposed to toxic gases after they discovered a tunnel that had been dug to Darraya by the regime forces and the Lebanese Hizbullah. After that the fighters used masks, soda and onions. They also set fire to the targeted place. One of the injured fighters was moved to a field hospital. The incident took place in the northern front of Darraya, and we have shot a video showing the tunnel which was targeted."

 

19-Tebat al-Imam Hama )26 April 2014)

Among the usual attacks to which Hama is exposed, chemical toxic gases - most probably chlorine - was reported to have been used in Tebat al-Imam suburbs of Hama.   Media activist Huzaifa al-Jawash, who lives in Tebat al-Imam, said: 

"Helicopters dropped an explosive barrel loaded with chlorine on the south-western part of the city causing minor suffocation cases in the southern neighborhood, in addition to internal displacement of residents. At 10:30 pm, two missiles fell on the Webda district as well. Moreover, at about 12:30 am, helicopters dropped four explosive barrels on the western neighborhood, near the museum and the telephone center, destroying many houses but causing no casualties."  (End of Testimony).

A satellite image showing the area where the explosive barrel loaded with chlorine was dropped

 

20-Taman'a, Idlib (29 April 2014)

According a field hospital doctor who is specialized in treating chemical cases, Taman'a was targeted for the third time by an explosive barrel loaded with toxic chlorine gases. This last attack left seven casualties including a mother and her baby. VDC could not further verify this claim due to a lack of witnesses.

 

Expert view on the report:

VDC presented this report prior to its release to Dr. Alastair Hay Professor of Environmental Toxicology at the University of Leeds (UK).  Who have worked on chemical weapons issues for over 35 years and have conducted 6 investigations of real and alleged uses of chemical weapons.

 And he commented on this report with the following statement/Observations:

 

“The symptoms that are reported which include breathlessness and general difficulty breathing, sore and reddened eyes, irritated throat and mouth (and nose) are consistent with exposure to chlorine. The yellow-green colour is also a good description of what chlorine might be like but this will depend on the light.

The picture of the barrel bomb is powerful evidence. Wherever possible people should try to photograph bombs and include any writing on them. Some photographs should also try to show the location of the bomb so that it can be verified later.

-One doctor appears to have treated victims for organophosphate ( OP ) poisoning by giving atropine and praladoxime. If the victim's do not have classic signs of OP poisoning then treating them with atropine may make them worse for a time. But the doctor will have to make a judgement at the time. If the symptoms were really of OP poising this would suggest a different agent like a nerve gas.”

 

Legal Description:

Since July 2012, the International Committee of the Red Cross has described the situation in Syria as a non-international (internal) armed conflict; a legal description which neither the Syrian government nor any other international organization interested in the Syrian situation has disputed. Accordingly, the rules of the international law are applicable in full, particularly the International Human Rights Law, and the relative rules of international humanitarian law, particularly the Common Article iii of Geneva Convention of 1949 which is applicable to all Syrian territory, and on all parties to the conflict. Moreover, all parties to the conflict are bound by the rules of customary international humanitarian law applicable to non-international armed conflicts.


VDC states that the use of weapons of a nature liable to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering is prohibited, and that this is a "cardinal principle" of the international humanitarian law as approved by the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion on the Legality of the Use of Nuclear Weapons[1], as they are weapons with effects which cannot be limited to the achievement of military objectives[2]. The International Committee of the Red Cross has adopted the stance, in its collection documenting customary international humanitarian law, that this prohibition is applicable in non-international conflicts and in the practice of States.  Poisonous weapons are prohibited because they cause unnecessary suffering in certain circumstances or in all circumstances.[3]

VDC also reasserts the prohibition of indiscriminate weapons, the effect of which cannot be limited as required by international humanitarian law. The prohibition is applicable to non-international armed conflicts like Syria’s. In the preamble to a resolution adopted in 1969, the UN General Assembly stated that biological and chemical weapons “are inherently reprehensible because their effects are often uncontrollable and unpredictable". ICRC has documented practices of member states that consider toxic and chemical weapons indiscriminate in a given context and in every context[4]."

VDC also recalls the definition of poisonous weapons, as approved by a number of States - are "weapons whose prime, or even exclusive, effect is to poison or asphyxiate”. The prohibition of poison weapons is applicable in non-international armed conflicts, as affirmed by the International Committee of the Red Cross[5] .

Finally VDC reminds readers about the Geneva Protocol of 1925[6] and the Chemical Weapons Convention[7], which included definitions and detailed rules on the prohibition of the use of these weapons. It is noteworthy that the prohibition of the use of chemical weapons is a duty, even in non-international armed conflicts, as decided by the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia in the case of Dusko Tadic.

The attacks documented in this report indicate the use of chemical or poisonous weapons by the forces of the Syrian regime against the civilian population causing, as the testimonies show, unnecessary sufferings.  Furthermore their prime, or even exclusive, effect is to poison or asphyxiate, which indicates that they are likely to contain toxic gases and / or chemicals. The civilian nature of the casualties also shows that the use of such weapons has no military justification; their effects could not be limited, which make their use indiscriminate and prohibited for all of the aforementioned reasons, in addition to being prohibited in accordance with the international treaties that include provisions for prohibiting use of toxic and / or chemical weapons.


The indiscriminate attacks on civilians with such toxic or chemical weapons constitute serious violations of international humanitarian law according to the customary international humanitarian law. They therefore constitute war crimes.   The leaders who gave the orders bear individual criminal responsibility for these attacks, in addition to all those who have committed, facilitated, helped or offered help to commit these attacks – attacks which are war crimes.

The incidents cited also indicate a systematically consistent pattern of attacks against civilians with poison gas, in an attempt to kill at a limited local level. The frequency of the use of those toxic and/or chemical weapons in different places of the country, according to the cases documented in this report, could constitute crimes against humanity as defined by the jurisprudence of international criminal courts and Article 7 of Rome Convention, which includes the Statute of the International Criminal Court. The testimonies show these attacks occurring in the context of a broad attack against the civilian population, which is an essential circumstantial condition for crimes against humanity. This broad attack seems to be systematic (killing civilians exclusively or causing damage and unnecessary suffering in several areas) and followed by attacks with toxic and/ or chemical weapons as documented in this report. This shows a high level of planning, investment of all resources and an integration of the weapon systems employed by the regime in a coordinated manner in several places in the country. This indicates that the attacks documented in this report seek the same goal, which is to kill the civilian population without necessarily achieving a military objective in the targeted areas. This is done by killing and causing damage on a local level, yet on a wide scale.  The regime clearly calculates that this is a way to avoid drawing the attention of the international community to its actions, while continuing its project of exterminating the residents in besieged areas. Accordingly, these attacks with chemical and / or toxic weapons constitute a "systematic and / or widespread" attack on the civilian population. Each fatal case of a civilian caused by these attacks constitutes a "deliberate killing", which - in the aforementioned context - may be considered a crime against humanity.

We call on the Security Council to:

1- Intervene immediately - under Chapter VII - to remove this weapon from the Syrian regime, as the weapon has been returned it the regime’s military arsenal;

2- Issue a decree forcing the Syrian regime to stop the air and land bombardment of the areas being targeted, in order to prevent destruction of evidence in the attacks and the indiscriminate killing of civilians.

3-Refer the Syrian file to the International Criminal Court, to determine the criminal responsibility and ensure an accounting process, in order to put an end to the prevailing climate of impunity.

 

[1] International Court of Justice, Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons 1996, article 78.

 

[2] Previous reference, same article.

[3] ICRC, customary international humanitarian law, Volume 1, Henckaerts, Doswald-Beck. Cambridge.

[4]  Previous reference.

[5] Previous reference p.253

[6] Protocol for the prohibition of the use of asphyxiating, poisonous or other Gases, and of bacteriological methods of warfare. Geneva 17 June 1925 (Geneva Protocol of 1925)



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