Bodies of victims in a building after an apparent chemical attack, Douma, Syria, April 7, 2018


84+ Die Fleeing Last ISIS Enclave

The city of Douma, near Syria’s capital Damascus, was likely attacked with a “toxic chemical” including chlorine in April 2018, according to international inspectors.

Near the end of a two-month pro-Assad offensive on the opposition-held East Ghouta area, Douma was subjected to intensive shelling and bombing. Multiple witnesses and physical evidence, including two cylinders, pointed to the dropping of chlorine canisters by regime helicopters on April 7. More than 40 people were killed by chlorine inhalation, according to the testimony.

The next day, rebels in Douma surrendered.

After more than 10 months of investigation, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons issued a second report on the incident on Friday, concluding:

Regarding the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon on 7 April 2018 in Douma, the Syrian Arab Republic, the evaluation and analysis of all the information gathered by the FFM [Fact-Finding Mission] — witnesses’ testimonies, environmental and biomedical samples analysis results, toxicological and ballistic analyses from experts, additional digital information from witnesses — provide reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place.

The OPCW does not have the mandate to assign responsibility; however, their assessment of the two cylinders — one landing on a building rooftop and apparently released chlorine; the other breaking through a roof and landing on a bed, but with no release of the chlorine canister — accompanies evidence from multiple sources pointing to helicopters dropping the weapons.

The FFM summarized, “The objects from which the samples were taken at both locations had
been in contact with one or more substances containing reactive chlorine.”

The inspectors said, according to witnesses, that 43 people were killed in the building where chlorine was released, running into the gas as it descended and they came up from the basement.

The findings of the inspectors debunk months of propaganda by pro-Assad activists, who have insisted that there was no chlorine attack or that a “false flag” attack was staged by rebels and White Helmets rescuers.

Russian State outlets, who have denied a chemical attack since last April, have conceded that the OPCW said chlorine “likely” was used.

Neither the Kremlin nor the Assad regime has issued an official response, but the Russian Embassy in The Netherlands complained that Moscow’s “evidence” had been dismantled by the OPCW:

The inspectors also buried another conspiracy theory spread by the Assad regime and pro-Assad bloggers, that rebels had stocked chemical weapons. The report concludes:

From the analysis of the information gathered during the on-site visits to the warehouse and facility suspected of producing chemical weapons, there was no indication of either facility being involved in their manufacture.

While pointing to one chlorine attack on April 7, the FFM’s report is inconclusive on victims who were treated at a hospital. Their investigation points to dust and smoke inhalation, rather than chlorine, as the cause.

The FFM could not establish the precise number of casualties; however, some sources reported that it ranged between 70 and 500. Other sources denied the presence of chemically-related casualties.

Last month, after months of investigation, journalist James Harkin published a lengthy article with findings that match those of the OPCW inspectors.

A New York Times reconstruction of the attack:

84+ Die Fleeing Last ISIS Enclave

At least 84 people, two-thirds of them young children, have died since December while fleeing the last Islamic State enclave in Syria.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Friday that the victims perished on their way to the al-Hol camp in Hasakah Province in northeast Syria.

The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces says it is now carrying out the final attack on ISIS’s Baghouz pocket, in Deir ez-Zor Province, after a pause to allow several thousand people out.

OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke said the UN remains “gravely concerned” about the plight of thousands of civilians who are fleeing.

He said the al-Hol camp, in Hasakah Province, now holds at least 45,000 people, including 13,000 people — 90% of them women and children — who fled Deir al-Zor last week:

Many of them have arrived exhausted, hungry and sick….

It’s a very long, a very tiring journey to this camp, so far have reports of more than 84 deaths on that road, on that stretch of territory. Two-thirds of those who have died are children under 5 years of age.

He said about 175 children have been hospitalized due to severe acute malnutrition.