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Flash Report Syria: Chemical Attacks on Idlib 

Use of Chlorine Gas as a Weapon Results in Civilian Casualties

Violations Documentation Center in Syria

March 2015

Summary:

Syrian government forces continue their deliberate and indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, particularly those embedded with cylinders of chlorine gas, against civilian population in areas controlled by opposition armed forces. Syrian forces have been using these barrels as a weapon on populated areas since 2015 just to add new crimes to the hundreds of other war crimes they have committed during the past years.

The Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) has documented the use of chlorine as a weapon by the Syrian government on Syrian governorates and towns more than twenty times on  during the past year. The attacks documented by VDC are: Hama Governorate (Keferzita in particular), Idlib governorate (Taman'a in particular) and Damascus and its Suburbs. The center has issued several reports on these incidents, the latest of which was Syria is Chocking Again. Other international and human rights organizations issued similar reports providing evidence suggesting that Syrian government helicopters used industrial chemical as a weapon, an act banned by the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction. The report of the Fact-Finding Mission of OPCW stated, with a high degree of confidence, that chlorine had been used as a weapon in villages in northern Syria from April to August 2014.

Sarmin and Qmenas Attacks:

On 16/03/2015, at about 10:00 pm, activists from Idlib governorate reported that the Syrian government forces used chlorine gas in Sarmin town, an administrative part of Idlib governorate northwest of Syria. Consequently, a VDC contacted VDC's field reporter in Idlib, activists and medical units' personnel, who consistently confirmed the attacks.

The team contacted Dr. Muhammad Ghaleb al-Tanari, the director of the field hospital in Sarmin town. He stated:
"On 16 March 2015, at 8:30 pm, we heard a helicopter overhead. Ten minutes later, injuries from Sarmin and from the nearby Qmenas village began arriving to the field hospital although no sound of any explosion was heard. Injured people showed symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, sore throats, redness and burning in the eyes. The attack resulted in an estimated number of 70 mild and moderate injuries and no deaths were reported.                                                                                                               

Two hours after the first attack, we heard the helicopter again.   The wounded began arriving to the field hospital a few minutes later, showing the same symptoms as the ones from the first attack, with  some additional ones like vomiting, asthenia (muscle weakness), body discharges and severe cough. The second attack killed six people from one family, when a barrel fell directly on their house (in Sarmin). They had gone down to the basement to seek shelter from the impact of the explosion, as they usually did, which led to their immediate suffocation as the gas, being heavier than air, slipped down to their shelter."

Dr. Antari added:

"In short, helicopters launched two attacks on the town,  dropping two barrel bombs loaded with chlorine gas each time, affecting approximately 120-130 people. We treated  mild injuries  with sprays, oxygen and Ventolin inhalers, the moderate ones were additionally given Hydrocortisone and Dexamethasone while the severe ones were injected with adrenaline in addition to the previous treatments. Among the injured were 15 members of the civil defense volunteers and the medical staff at the field hospital, who showed some of the symptoms due to their contact with the injured."

The VDC team, led by the field researcher Ibrahim Abu Ghaith, contacted  media activist Muawiya Hassan Agha via Skype. Muawiya, who is a resident of Sarmin town and was present at the moment of the attack, stressed that he had heard the sound of helicopters at exactly 8:30 in the evening of Monday 16 March 2015. According to him,  the helicopter dropped two barrel bombs loaded with chlorine gas on Qmenas village, less than 2 km from Sarmin, where the wind carried the gas to  later. The wounded therefore arrived from the two places to the field hospital in Sarmin. Muawiya added:

"After the first attack, the rescue and civil defense teams rushed to attend to  dozens of injured in Sarmin; fortunately no deaths were reported. Medical staff dealt with all the injuries with the available medical means. But even before we finished treating those who were injured in the first attack, we received information from one of our observatories[1]  that helicopters were hovering over the area again.  We informed the residents through the radio in the mosque, put masks and went to the roof of an elevated house. Within a few minutes , we heard the sound of two objects dropped from the helicopter  hit the ground  without exploding. Rescue teams rushed to the location to help the injured. It was  between 10:30 and 11:00 pm. I could not determine the time accurately because of the tension, fear and utter horror resulting from the use of chemical gases."

Agha continues:

"The two barrels fell on the eastern neighborhood of the town; the first one fell behind the school of the town while the other fell on the house of Waref Muhammad Taleb's family who had gone down to the shelter a few minutes before the attack, according to the information we received. The rescue teams themselves suffered from the gas that spread in the house on which the barrel had fallen. The whole family was moved to the field hospital while still alive, but  they were so severely affected that the medical staff failed to save their lives. Due to their exposure to high levels of the toxic gas and the fall of the barrel directly on their house, they died one by one. As the injured continued to arrive to the hospital till late at night, some cases were transferred to nearby hospitals including Saraqeb Hospital and Binnish Hospital."

Laith Fares,  activist,  civil defense worker and reporter for the civil defense teams told the VDC that a large number of civil defense workers had suffered from exposure to gas  due to lack of masks. They showed symptoms including respiratory irritation, burning in the throat, redness in the eyes and severe cough. Fares added that there were more than 140 victims during the rescue operations, many of whom were taken to near hospitals such as Saraqeb Hospital and Binnish Hospital. Fares also reported that the government forces not only targeted the area with gas but also with other shells generated from the Syrian government forces-controlled Moua'skar al-Qarmid "Brick Camp", from which all the surrounding villages are usually targeted.

Ibrahim Abu al-Ghayth, VDC staff member in Idlib and field researcher confirmed that Hama Military Airport is the take off point for all the helicopters including the ones that dropped the barrels of chlorine on Taman'a and Telmans cities in Idlib and Kaferzita in Hama last year.

Conclusion:

Syria has become a signatory of  the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases of November 22nd 1968  after its forces launched an egregious chemical attack on 21 August 2013 against civilians in  eastern Ghouta near Damascus.Due to pressure from the international community, Syria officially joined the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Chemical and Toxic Weapons in September 2013, and handed the instrument of its accession to the convention that prevents and prohibits the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon on 14 Sep 2013. The Syrian government has also announced that it will comply with the provisions of the Convention and abide by them "honestly and sincerely."

On 27 September 2013, the Security Council passed Resolution 2118 which called for the full implementation of the decision of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which contains special procedures for the expeditious and verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons and agreed that in the event of non-compliance, it would impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.

This terrible attack by the Syrian government forces  using chlorine gas took place on 6 March 2015, a few days after the United Nations Security Council issued resolution 2209, which "condemns in the strongest terms" any use of any toxic chemical, such as chlorine, as a weapon in the Syrian Arab Republic; expressed, in its second item, "deep concern" that toxic chemicals had been used as a weapon in the Syrian Arab Republic, and decided, in the seventh item, to impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter in the event of future non-compliance with resolution 2118.

Based on the testimonies received by VDC and the clinical symptoms suffered by the victims and identified first by doctors and field activists and later by a VDC expert group, this summary report strongly suggests that on 16 March 2015,  Syrian government forces randomly and deliberately dropped four explosive barrels embedded with cylinders of poisonous chlorine gas on civilian neighborhoods. Two barrels were dropped in one attack on Qmenas village, less than 2 kilometers from Sarmin town, resulting in some 70 mild and moderate injuries among the civilians. Injuries were also reported in  in Sarmin as the winds helped the gas spread into the town, too.  Another attack happened  about two hours ater as two barrels were dropped on Sarmin affecting dozens of civilians with mild to to severe injuries. An entire family was killed in one of the attacks: Wharf Mohammed Taleb, his wife Alaa Aljati and his children Sarah, Aisha and Mohammed in addition to another lady named Ayouch Hassan Qak.

The Violation Documentation Center (VDC) reiterates that the two attacks carried out by the Syrian government forces represent a flagrant violation of international law and of United Nations resolutions, namely resolutions 2118 and 2209, which stated that the United Nations Security Council would adopt measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter in the event of Syria’s non-compliance with the mentioned resolutions and the content therein. The VDC strongly condemns these two attacks on Idlib governorate and denounces the failure of the international community, its institutions and bodies, to provide Syrian civilians with the protection afforded to them under international humanitarian law, also referred to as "the law of war". The VDC believes that the Syrian government has engaged in grave violations of international laws and treaties in total impunity. The VDC therefore calls on United Nations Security Council to abide by its obligations provided for in the aforementioned resolutions and  take deterrent measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter against the Syrian government in the wake of these two horrific attacks by chemical weapons on civilians in Syria.

Appendix

Photographs of victims

Source: Sarmin Coordination:

Photographs of the two barrels' remnants (Sarmin Coordination)


[1] An observatory is a group of people  in areas held by the opposition armed forces usingradio devices to eavesdrop communications of the Syrian Army troops. Thus, these observatories can know where and when warplanes  take off and can warn  civilian residents of any potential attacks.



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