The photos and video circulating of yesterday’s alleged chemical gas attack in the east Damascus suburb of Ghouta are haunting. In some, dead bodies, including those of children, are lined up shoulder to shoulder on the floor. In others, volunteers go from victim to victim, pouring water onto the faces of those still alive.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other watchdog groups have claimed the attack was carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s regime; the Observatory put the number of dead at 1,400 and climbing. If so, it will be the largest recorded chemical attack since a 1988 hit on Iraq’s Kurds by ousted dictator Saddam Hussein. The missiles containing the gas are believed to have been launched from areas of Damascus controlled by the regime.
“A huge number of people in Ghouta are dead, doctors and witnesses are describing horrific details that look like a chemical weapons attack, and the government claims it didn’t do it,” Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement. “The only way to find out what really happened in Ghouta is to let United Nations inspectors in.”
At the time of the attack, United Nations inspectors were in central Damascus, but have not been allowed access to the attack site. HRW said that “whether or not chemical weapons were used, the attack left a large number of civilians dead, and those responsible for unlawful killings should be held to account. The government should give the United Nations chemical weapons inspection team currently in Damascus immediate access.”
Syria Deeply spoke with witnesses in Ghouta about what they saw, and their low hopes that the attack will trigger international intervention in the conflict.
Ghazwan, 28, doctor:
We have previous experience dealing with chemical attacks, but not on this scale. It was shocking to see such a large number of children and women. It was the first time we have seen a chemical attack like this. We couldn’t deal with all these numbers – about 800 injured arrived here in [neighboring] Douma, and we only have a few medical stations and doctors. We gave mechanical ventilation for some who couldn’t breathe, and it is important to give atropine shots, which is the antidote for sarin.
People can help in this situation by washing the injured. We had a lot of volunteers. The situation in Douma was good in in the end, thank God. Only 17 dead from 800.
The main mission was to rescue people. If you want to go there you have to wear masks to protect yourself from chemical weapons, and we only have a few. We get them from the Free Syrian Army.
Yesterday there were a lot of people coming to Douma for treatment. Most have been discharged. A few were suffocating and are getting medical ventilation. The acute state of chemical injuries only lasts 24 hours. That is the critical period. Now most of them are being taken care of back in their homes. A lot of them were scared to go home, but they have no place else to go.
One of the survivors told us that he fainted and then found himself in Douma. They took him to the field hospital. Some survivors told us that they were walking in the streets and seeing bodies everywhere, before they fainted. Some were dead, others were choking.
I’ll be frank with you: Most people I’ve seen today and yesterday don’t expect anything from the international community. They’ve expected too much in the past, so they don’t care too much about this.
Abu Adel, a member of the Information Office in Jobar, the eastern district of Damascus that borders Ghouta:
The atmosphere is incredibly tense. People are wary of a repeat scenario. Now there is heavy shelling with all kinds of weapons, mortar fire and warplanes, and surface-to-surface missiles hit the district in the morning. Now the neighborhood is surrounded by tanks from several directions, and there have been attempts to storm it.
The rebels are doing a major escalation and responding by shelling regime military locations.
We expect nothing from the United Nations.
Abu Ahmed, Moadamiyet al-Sham media center:
Four days ago, the regime [started] to shell Moadamiyet al-Sham with rockets and mortars [launched from] from the Mezzeh military airport. [There were also] tanks and artillery fire [at] the Fourth Division headquarters in the mountains of Moadamiyet.
There was no shelling the night before the attack. Yesterday, when people were leaving the mosque after dawn prayers, they heard seven strange sounds like whistles. The sounds of the explosions were unusually soft.
The rockets had come from the direction of Mezzeh and targeted the area of Zeitouna mosque. Nearby, [there] is a kindergarten.
The worshippers went to the scene to find their families [in a state that looked like] sleeping. People were wounded. Among the wounded were paramedics and doctors. All were passed out.
The ambulance took people to the field hospital. There were 103 people killed, including 17 children, and 305 wounded. Some are still unconscious. One child died today.
People have severed all of their hopes [that] the world [will intervene]. We have nothing but God. But if the inspectors are serious, then they must go to Moadamiyet immediately. They must make serious decisions and not just issue condemnations.
The regime has used every weapon, and now it is [using] chemicals. It is taking its revenge on the cities that have remained steadfast [opposition strongholds] despite all of the bombing and destruction. This is the last resort of Assad, after exhausting every means of suppression. This is vengeance.