Syria Daily: Inspectors Document Chlorine Attack in Idlib Province in February 2018

A medic treats a victim of the chlorine attack on Saraqeb, Idlib Province, Syria, February 4, 2018

OPCW establishes helicopter dropped two cylinders with chlorine on town of Saraqeb


The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has formally concluded that chlorine was “likely used” in an attack on the town of Saraqeb in Idlib Province in northwest Syria in February 2018.

The assault followed a pro-Assad ground offensive, enabled by Russian airstrikes, that took part of the southeast of the province over the winter. Saraqeb remained with the opposition, as the ground attacks were halted so pro-Assad forces could concentrate on the reoccupation of East Ghouta near Damascus.

The attack was part of the latest wave of pro-Assad campaign of conventional and chemical bombing across the province, almost all of which has been held by the opposition since 2015. In April 2017, a sarin attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed about 90 people and injured hundreds.

See How UN Concluded Assad Regime Carried Out Sarin Attack on Khan Sheikhoun

Because of a Russia veto in the UN Security Council last November, the OPCW cannot attribute responsibility for the Saraqeb attack.

A Smell of Chlorine and Breathing Difficulties

The report is based on interviews with witnesses, including some of the 11 victims, health workers, and first responders, study of environmental samples, and examination of two cylinders.

The witnesses described how a helicopter — which only regime and Russian forces use in the seven-year conflict — dropped the two cylinders, described as “barrels”, about 9:15 pm. The cylinders did not explode; instead, the chlorine was released through “mechanical impact”.

Patients showed signs and symptoms of irritation of tissue, consistent with exposure to chlorine and other toxic chemicals. Victims suffered from breathing difficulties and vomiting, some falling unconscious.

The OPCW’s Joint Investigative Mechanism formally reported that the Assad regime carried out several chlorine attacks in northwest Syria in 2014 and 2015, before Russia blocked the extension of its mandate.

Occupants of a basement near one of the two impact sites reported the odor of chlorine. They suffered shortness of
breath, nausea, and a burning sensation in the eyes. Some lost consciousness. Other witnesses succumbed as they tried to reach the roof of an adjacent building, despite using cloths to cover their mouth and nose.

First responders who reached the second site, a field near an agricultural bank, also encountered a “strange smell”. The first rescuer lost consciousness, while others had breathing difficulties.

Regime and Russian Responses

In mid-March the Assad regime replied to a request for information with a three-page report. The document noted that Saraqeb had not been under regime control for a long time, and put forth its own analysis based on public summaries.

The OPCW asked for more supporting information. The regime never responded.

Russian State media give a summary of the OPCW findings this morning. They emphasize that the inspectors did not attribute responsibility — without noting that this is impossible because of Moscow’s veto last November. TASS also chides that the US State Department “pinned the blame for [the attack] on the Syrian government without any evidence”.

RT is blatant in its attempt to bury the report, “OPCW Says Chlorine ‘Likely’ Used in Syria Based on Open-Source Info & Samples Provided by Jihadists”.

Some Douma Residents Return from Regime Shelters

Hundreds of people displaced from Douma, the center of the East Ghouta region near Damascus, have returned to their homes after the two-month pro-Assad offensive that overran the area from February to April.

Families arrived from regime shelters in a convoy of five buses on Tuesday night. Another 10 buses were preparing to return “dozens” of families to East Ghouta late Wednesday afternoon, a medical doctor in Douma said.

Zaher al-Masri, a Douma native who has been in a shelter since March, said:

There were moments of joy and weeping. My God, in spite of everything that has happened to us….You hear the families crying that they are returning to their communities, to their homes. It’s a feeling you can’t describe.

Masri said he was not permitted to return to Douma, as only families were invited to register and board buses.

Sources said single men and those wanted for military service have not been permitted to return. A humanitarian worker in Douma said returnees have been thoroughly questioned and those with any suspected connection to the opposition have been put back in shelters.

Families are being asked about every family member, what work they have been doing over the past years, whether they completed military service, and whether they took part in any armed action.

More than 158,000 people were displaced from East Ghouta during the pro-Asssd ground offensive, chemical attacks, and regime and Russian airstrikes. About 120,000 went to opposition-held northern Syria, while an estimated 44,000 were in regime shelters.

Related Posts

Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


  1. 05/16: Reports that the Syrian Arab Army is preparing to capture Kafr Hamrah, Anadan and Haritan from Jabhat Tahrir Suriya

    These villages are in the northeast tip of Idlib. Where is Erdogan and his merry gang of Islamist Kurd haters to defend Idlib from Assad? How stupid must Erdogan be to believe this rubbish about de-escalation zones.

    Hey Meokur – why is your Erdogan so impotent – while pretending to be a world power? Mark my words – he will soon run up to Moscow with his tail between the legs again begging for Putin to pull back. But it aint going to work.

  2. Interesting how RT is siding with far-left activists accusing the IDW ((Intellectual Dark Web) as being alt-Right – the usual leftie smear. The standard theory by the Left is that RT and Russian mouthpieces are pro-Trump and anti-Clinton. So why is RT smearing the IDW and siding with the regressive Left against those who are fighting political correctness and against those who want free speech?

  3. Andre: “I have visited [southern Lebanon] and the place is thriving and largely rebuilt.

    The US managed to destroy much of Vietnam and still lost.”

    So now we find out that this window curtain installer in Sydney Australia, who seems to be 24/7 on social media, is actually spending a lot of money and time and travelling to south Lebanon – to do exactly what, Andre? Who did you meet from Hezbollah over there? Were you also teaching the art of draperie to Hezbollahis while there? Or setting up fake news trolling (oops curtain making) factories?

    • It must come as a shock to someone who has never owned a passport that those of us who do have spent time traveling the world. Unlike Americans, Australians in general are well travelled.

      Anyone can visit Southern Lebanon without coming into contact with anyone fromHezbollah. It’s unlikely you would unless you had the right contacts and if you inadvertently did come across a member of Hezbollah, you would never know. I was able to see for myself what state Southern Lebanon looks like. It’s a stunning part of the world.

      • Yeah, that’s a bunch of bullshit. More Americans have passports than there are people in the entire US colony of Australia. In 2016 alone Americans made over 80 million trips abroad.

      • So now we have a curtain installer from Australia spending his hard earned money to go to Hezbollahi resorts in south Lebanon. Must have been really fun to mingle with antisemites and terrorists and the ignorant Islamist Left over there, is it not? Any reason to do that except for antisemitism? Or maybe setting up trolling factories.

Leave a Comment