Since last March, the Assad regime has been accused of a series of chemical weapons attacks in Hama and Idlib Provinces.
We have reported on some of these operations, using chlorine gas canisters dropped in barrel bombs, including the attacks on Kafrzita near Hama on April 11, on al-Tameneh in Idlib Province on April 12 and 18, and on Talmenes in Idlib Province on April 21:
Treatment of victims in Kafrzita:
Now Spiegel Online reports on the attacks, visiting the targeted areas to talk to victims, doctors, and eyewitnesses:
The green wheat fields shimmer in the late afternoon light as the wind slowly starts to pick up. A cloud of dust drifts by. This is good, says Abu Abdu, a farmer from the village of Telminnes, located deep in the south of Syria’s Idlib province. Prior to the war, the evening wind had been an annoyance for the dust it kicked up. But these days, it is windless nights that people in the area despise. That’s when air force helicopters come and the gas attacks take place. Often, they circle over the city before dropping their cargo.
Usually, there is no big bang, just the sound of a minor detonation, sometimes even just the thud of an impact. Death comes quietly, as it did on the evening of April 21 in Telminnes.
That’s the evening a bomb landed near Abu Abdu’s garden. The farmer says the explosion was a quiet one. “I thought the point of impact was far away,” he recalls. The bomb, which carried a small amount of explosives and a gas cylinder, fell close by — so close that Abu Abdu could already see the cloud before he had the chance to flee. “Yellow vapor rose, it smelled strongly of chlorine and it burned like fire. I could no longer speak or breathe,” he says. Neighbors took him to a makeshift hospital where he was treated with oxygen and an anticonvulsant. “Hours later, I could still barely move my arms, I was coughing up blood and every breath I took was hellish.”
Between 200 and 300 people went to hospital in Telminnes that night, suffering from burns in their respiratory passages, difficulty breathing and eye irritation. None showed signs of external injuries. Abu Abdu and others were then transferred to hospitals in the north. The patients suffering the worst injuries were taken to Turkey, where two children later died.
Treatment of injured:
Abu Abdu has since returned home, but he still suffers from coughing fits. Every night he hopes the wind will blow; the regime, he says, won’t risk a chlorine gas attack in such conditions. “Maybe they’re afraid for their soldiers in Wadi Deif,” he says. The province’s largest army base is located only a few kilometers south of Telminnes.
Although Damascus has turned over 92.5 percent of its chemical weapons stockpile, including sarin, as agreed, it continues to deploy poison gas against the Syrian people. Given chlorine’s use in everyday products, it isn’t included in the list of weapons the regime has agreed to place under international control. Its deployment against humans is nonetheless prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention, of which Syria is a signatory.
At least 10 chlorine gas attacks have been carried out since April 10 in the border areas of the Idlib and Hama provinces, including one in Telminnes, three in Al-Tamana’a and six in the small city Kfar Zeita and the surrounding area. The hilly, rural region is a battlefield that has been largely overlooked by the public. It’s difficult to reach, there are no major cities in the area and it has been the scene of bitter fighting for minimal territorial gain. During the past two months, the regime has lost control of strategically important villages here, and rebels have also blocked the highway between Hama and Aleppo. Now it appears that Damascus is seeking to gain the upper hand through the use of chlorine gas.
The nature of the attacks appears to be the same in each instance, with witnesses saying they involve barrel bombs being dropped from helicopters. They are cheaply made constructions, welded together by the military. They are then filled with explosives and metal shrapnel — or chlorine.
Claimed remains of a barrel bomb dropping a chlorine gas canister on Talmenes:
On April 12, Syrian state television reported that the al-Qaida-aligned al-Nusra Front had detonated containers with chlorine. But the regime also made similar claims after the sarin attacks that occurred last year. And research conducted by SPIEGEL refutes this new claim. A SPIEGEL team succeeded in visiting all three sites of the attacks and spoke to people who suffered injuries, witnesses and doctors at the scene and also investigated impact craters and the remains of projectiles. Journalists with SPIEGEL were the first foreign reporters to reach the site.
Our journalists determined that the village of Al-Tamana’a in the Idlib province was also targeted, with over 100 injured being taken to hospital in the wake of chlorine gas attacks on the nights of April 12 and 18. All the victims suffered from the same symptoms as those in Telminnes: trouble breathing, fits of suffocation, coughing up of blood, redness of the eyes and a strong flow of spittle. “On April 18, we only took the worst cases to the larger hospitals,” says one medic. “Then we had to evacuate everyone when the gas reached the ward and the smell of chlorine got stronger and stronger.” He says five people died.