News / Middle East

Syrian-American Doctor: Medical Workers Among Those Killed in Gas Attack

A survivor from what activists say is a gas attack rests inside a mosque in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus, Aug. 21, 2013.
A survivor from what activists say is a gas attack rests inside a mosque in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus, Aug. 21, 2013.
Cecily Hilleary
United Nations chemical weapons inspectors continue their investigation into reported nerve gas attacks in the Damascus suburbs last week and say they will need another four days to complete their inquiry. Born in Homs, Zaher Sahloul is a physician and president of the Syrian American Medical Society, which has been very active in supporting physicians and hospitals inside Syria, as well as refugees affected by the ongoing crisis.

Sahloul was reached by telephone in Chicago, where he practices pulmonary medicine, and provided an update.
 
"Since last Wednesday [August 21], we have had continuous communication with the doctors in the east Ghouta area. This is the area where most of the attacks happened, and we actually set up a situation room to deal with the situation.  We have physicians from here and from our regional offices in Jordan and Turkey, in addition to doctors in east Ghouta communicating about their response, the complications that they face and what they are lacking, and how to improve their response, and also what is the contingency plan in case we have attacks like that in the future—especially in light of the expected strike on Syria and what may follow as retaliation from the regime using chemical weapons or chemical weapons."
 
So what we are seeing there, is it consistent with the use of nerve agents?
 
Zaher SahloulZaher Sahloul
x
Zaher Sahloul
Zaher Sahloul
"Yes. The symptoms that the doctors are describing are consistent with exposure to phospho-organic chemicals--or what’s called 'nerve gas.' Symptoms include respiratory complaints, increased secretions, chest tightness, shortness of breath, respiratory failure. Patients stop breathing, so many of them require intubation and mechanical ventilation. And also they have neurological symptoms, like convulsions and delusions.  And also they have eye symptoms—constricted or pinpoint pupils.  And these symptoms are consistent to nerve gas or sarin gas.
 
Of course there’s no way to confirm that for sure because there are no labs in that area—or in Syria—to confirm that use, but I know that physicians took samples -- blood and hair and urine samples and also, from the clothing of the patients – and they will probably share them with the U.N. investigation team.
 
Also, patients responded to the antidote to nerve gas, which is Atropine, which would probably indicate that the problem they are dealing with was nerve gas exposure."

So you are saying if it were not nerve gas exposure, the Atropine wouldn’t be effective?
 
"That’s correct. The other thing that also pointed to nerve gas exposure was the fact that many of the medical personnel, whether they were nurses, doctors or medics who were the first responders who participated in taking care of the patients, they had symptoms also. And unfortunately, one of the physicians died. Three nurses and one of the medics also died, and we had about 15 to 20 medical personnel who developed symptoms. Some of them required injections of antidote. Some of them required intubation and admission to the intensive care unit. We are still waiting for the final tally of medical personnel who had either symptoms or died due to the exposure.  But this also points to exposure to nerve gas."
 
One hears that the symptoms vary by the concentrations that people are exposed to.  What have you heard about how it was delivered—in other words, what kind of exposure are we talking here?
 
"What we heard is that we had several shells that fell and exploded in an area that is very concentrated with civilians.  This is a relatively small area, but very congested.  There are about 1.5 million civilians who live in the east Ghouta area, but according to the physicians there, the activists, there were about 26 missiles that were used to deliver chemical weapons, and the difference between this incident and other incidents, of course, besides the number of missiles used is that it looks like a higher concentration of the nerve gas that led to many deaths amongst civilians.  Also, the wider area that this attack that happened in east Ghouta--it targeted Zamalka, Ein Tarma and Jobar, so these are larger areas than the previous attacks, with lots of civilians. 
 
A U.N. chemical weapons expert wearing a gas mask carries samples collected from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus August 28, 2013. U.N. chemical weapons experts investigating an apparent gasA U.N. chemical weapons expert wearing a gas mask carries samples collected from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus August 28, 2013. U.N. chemical weapons experts investigating an apparent gas
x
A U.N. chemical weapons expert wearing a gas mask carries samples collected from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus August 28, 2013. U.N. chemical weapons experts investigating an apparent gas
A U.N. chemical weapons expert wearing a gas mask carries samples collected from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus August 28, 2013. U.N. chemical weapons experts investigating an apparent gas
And unfortunately, people panicked and the response was not what we would like to have in an incident like this.  This is to be expected.  This is a third world country, and people are not used to responding to chemical weapons attacks on that scale.  Resources are very limited.  You know, this area has been under siege for the past year, and even if you were to send them everything they need, it’s very difficult to get things in."
 
What do you say to those people who argue that the regime did not send these missiles, that it was the rebels themselves?
 
"That’s crazy. This theory that rebels did that is laughable, to say the least.  The rebels do not kill their children or their families to prove a point or something. Another thing that one of the physicians over there told me –because I asked the same question, you know, the first night.  I asked them the same question: 'How come the regime is using this now that you have the United Nations investigators only a half an hour away from this area?'
 
And their response was, first of all, the regime never cared about the United Nations one year ago, when the U.N. came to Syria, when the Houla massacre was committed.  And the U.N. investigation team when there and they saw with their own eyes what happened in the Houla village, around Homs.  And the other thing that they said is that this area [Ghouta] was very strategic in terms of location, and the regime troops were trying to retake it using conventional methods and ground troops for the past seven or eight months and failed to do so.  So that’s probably why they used chemical weapons. 
 
And the third thing:  If you look at the regime media, they initially denied it completely, which doesn’t make sense.  I mean, can we not believe our own eyes—and all these victims—and then their media?  And then after that, they blamed it on the rebels. So if the rebels had used it, why wouldn’t the regime propaganda have accused them from the beginning?"

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More