News / Middle East

    Syria Attack Compared To Chemical Use in Iraq

    People, affected by what activists say is nerve gas, are treated at a hospital in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus August 21, 2013.
    People, affected by what activists say is nerve gas, are treated at a hospital in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus August 21, 2013.
    Chemical warfare experts are comparing the suspected poison gas attack on a suburb of Damascus this week to a deadly chemical weapons assault launched by Saddam Hussein on the Kurdish town of Halabja during the closing days of the Iran-Iraq.
     
    Syrian opposition leaders are saying the attack this week killed hundreds and involved Sarin gas, a banned chemical warfare nerve agent. They say it was launched by forces trying to protect President Bashar al-Assad, whose government the opposition has been trying to overthrow for the past 29 months.
     
    The chemical warfare experts say the look on the victims faces this week, the convulsions and the pinpoint pupils of their eyes were all reminiscent of the images from Halabja. They also say the tactic of first unleashing conventional air and artillery bombardment and then following up with the gas is similar to the line of attack employed by Saddam Hussein’s forces.
     
    The Halabja in attack in March of 1988 killed up to 5,000 people and Sarin gas was one of the agents used in the assault.
     
    “From the evidence I have seen coming out the last 24 hours from Syria, there are tremendous similarities with the attack on Halabja 25 years ago when Saddam used chemical and conventional weapons on the Kurds,” said Hamish Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical warfare expert.
      
    “The windows were broken in and the roofs were broken in at Halabja by conventional artillery fire and air strikes to make the gas more effective to get into rooms and cellars,” Bretton-Gordon said. “We saw that yesterday [August 21] in Syria. There are many dead families in their cellars - this again is exactly like what happened in Iraq.
     
    “When the bombardment started,” he continued, “many people dived in to their cellars expecting to be safe but, of course, Sarin gas and mustard gas is heavier than air and sinks down into the cellars. If you want to create genocide and kill lots of people this is probably the most effective way to do it.”
     
    Syrian opposition activists say they are still finding the dead in cellars and that many of the victims are children. Doctors working in makeshift hospitals in the Damascus suburbs in the Ghouta region say they were overwhelmed with the wounded.
     
    Preceded by air and artillery bombardment
     
    Activists said Wednesday's attack took place after a heavy government bombardment in the region surrounding Damascus, where the army is trying to drive out rebel forces.
     
    Video from the area posted by opposition activists shows dozens of bodies in the makeshift hospitals with no visible signs of injuries. Other videos show the injured convulsing and foaming at the mouth.
     
    The Syrian government has denied carrying out any chemical attack, calling the allegations “illogical and fabricated.” Syrian government officials say the claims are being made up in order to try to persuade the West to intervene.
     
    U.N. spokesmen said Thursday Secretary General Ban Ki-moon believes the attack “needs to be investigated without delay.” He has called for international chemical warfare inspectors “presently in Damascus, to be granted permission and access to swiftly investigate the incident.”

    Independent chemical weapons experts and Western diplomats say they don’t believe the images of the dead and dying could be faked.
     
    “I don’t think there is anyway the symptoms could have been faked, especially with the many children and babies we are seeing dying,” said Bretton-Gordon.
     
    Andrew Green, a former British ambassador to Syria, says that while there is no firm evidence yet, “it is clear there was a tragedy in Damascus and that it was almost certainly chemical weapons and the Syrian government is very anxious to make sure no one gets there to find out.”
     
    Permission needed to inspect attack sites
     
    The British diplomat says Assad apparently is convinced he can get away with using chemical weapons.
     
    “He has calculated this,” Green said of Assad. “It is very striking, if the regime were innocent they would be making every effort to get the inspectors in there, but they are doing the opposite and the Russians are backing them up, which suggests to me that the Russians think there are matters here that need to be hidden.”
     
    The U.N. weapons team in Damascus is there to investigate previous allegations of chemical weapons use in the civil war that has left more than 100,000 dead. The team has a mandate to visit three sites previously agreed between the U.N. and the Syrian government after months of negotiations.

    Chemical weapons experts say they have up to 10 days to get into the Damascus suburbs to be able to determine with any certainly if any chemical weapons were used, and if they were, which type. Sarin is a non-persistent gas, meaning that it dissipates quickly.

    French chemical weapons expert Jean Pascal Zanders say it is important to get a team in the sooner the better.
     
    “One of the key elements is to get the U.N. inspection team in there and they would be able to collect a variety of types of evidence from blood samples to soil samples and conduct autopsies.”

    You May Like

    How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Probe Targeting China's Statistic Head Sparks Concern

    Economists now asking what prompted government to launch an investigation only months after Wang Baoan had been vetted for crucial job

    HRW: Both Sides in Ukraine Conflict Targeted, Used Schools

    Rights group documents how both sides in Ukraine conflict carried out attacks on schools and used them for military purposes

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.