Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Gas Attack in Syria

On 4 April 2017, the Tahrir al-Sham (also known as al-Qaeda in Syria)-controlled town of Khan Shaykhun, in the Idlib Governorate of Syria, was struck by a heavy airstrike followed by a massive civilian chemical intoxication. The release of the toxic gas, likely sarin, killed at least 58 people and injured more than 300, according to the Idlib health authority.

If confirmed, the attack would become the deadliest use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War since the Ghouta chemical attack in 2013. The UK's Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, as well as the President of the United States, Donald Trump, placed the blame for the attack on the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian allies.

                                                   Syria (attack was in NW Syria)


Use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War has been confirmed by the local sources in Syria and by the United Nations. Such deadly attacks during the war were the Ghouta attack in the suburbs of Damascus in August 2013 and the Khan al-Assal attack in the suburbs of Aleppo in March 2013. While no party took responsibility for the chemical attacks, the Syrian Ba'athist military was seen as main suspect, due to a large arsenal of such weapons. A U.N. fact-finding mission and a UNHRC Commission of Inquiry have simultaneously investigated the attacks. The U.N. mission found likely use of the nerve agent sarin in the case of Khan Al-Asal (19 March 2013), Saraqib (29 April 2013), Ghouta (21 August 2013), Jobar (24 August 2013) and Ashrafiyat Sahnaya (25 August 2013). The UNHRC commission later confirmed the use of sarin in the Khan al-Asal, Saraqib and Ghouta attacks, but did not mention the Jobar and the Ashrafiyat Sahnaya attacks. The UNHRC commission also found that the sarin used in the Khan al-Asal attack bore "the same unique hallmarks" as the sarin used in the Ghouta attack and indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to chemicals from the Syrian Army's stockpile. Those attacks prompted the international community to pressure disarmament of the Syrian Armed Forces from chemical weapons, which was executed during 2014. Despite the disarmament process, dozens of incidents with suspected use of chemical weapons followed throughout Syria, mainly blamed on Syrian Ba'athist forces, as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and even on Syrian opposition forces.

In August 2016, a confidential United Nations report explicitly blamed the Syrian military of Bashar al-Assad for dropping chemical weapons on the towns of Talmenes in April 2014 and Sarmin in March 2015. Several other attacks have been alleged, reported and/or investigated. On 30 March 2017, an airstrike hit the town of al-Lataminah in the northern Hama Governorate, around 15 kilometres (9 miles) from Khan Shaykhun. More than 70 people in the area were then exposed to an unidentified chemical agent and showed symptoms of nausea, agitation, foaming, muscle spasm, and miosis (constriction of the pupil of the eye). Cardiac arrest occurred in two of the victims and an orthopedic doctor died.


The attack took around 7 A.M. April 4, most children and parents had not left for school or work. Witnesses reported smelling a strange odor about ten minutes after some airstrikes, followed by visible symptoms of poisoning. Medical workers and witnesses indicated that attack was different than the chlorine gas attacks they had experienced in the past as the chlorine gas usually killed a few people in confined spaces and buildings. In contrast, in this attack, many people died outside. They were affected by pinpoint pupils indicative of nerve agents and other toxins. Other symptoms included coldness in the extremities, decreased heart rate, and low blood pressure. Some first responders died immediately at the scene and some first responders were sickened when they came into contact with the victims.

Medical sources in Idlib in the immediate aftermath of the attacks reported that more than 58 people, including 11 children, were killed and more than 300 were wounded.

By 7:30 A.M. 100 wounded people had arrived at a local field hospital. Minister of health, Mohamad Firas al-Jundi, said that victims experienced suffocation, fluid in the lungs, foaming at the mouth, unconsciousness, spasm, and paralysis. A few hours after the attack, a nearby clinic treating victims was hit by an airstrike. The area's largest hospital had been bombed two days prior.

On April 5, local doctors and rescue workers at the scene said that the number of dead had risen to 74, with 600 injured, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and French Ambassador to the United Nations François Delattre said that over 100 had died.

Rescue workers gathered soil samples and sent them to Western intelligence officials for analysis.


The attack is widely attributed to the Syrian government. Russia said that the deaths were a result of gas released when a government airstrike hit a chemical weapons factory; the factory was also described as a "rebel depot full of chemical munitions." However, survivors told reporters they saw chemical bombs being dropped from planes.

Syrian rebel commander, Hasan Haj Ali, said that Russia's claim was “a lie,” that rebels aren't able to produce chemical weapons, and that no military positions in the area were bombed. “Everyone saw the plane while it was bombing with gas,” he said.

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