On January 22, 2017, and for the second time in nine days, the Damascus and Rural Damascus Director of Health reported to the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) that citizens in Douma have shown symptoms consistent with chlorine exposure. The symptoms include feelings of suffocation, minor dyspnoea, nausea, and coughing. The 21 patients, eight men, seven children, and six women, were treated at the Specialist Hospital in Rural Damascus and no cases of death were reported.
The VDC interviewed Dr Adnan Yassin, who was working at Specialist Hospital in Rural Damascus on the morning of the suspected attack. When questioned about the patients he treated, he stated the following:
“I cannot confirm that the targeting was with chlorine gas. But as I mentioned earlier, all of the injured had the same smell on their clothing as a result of the missile targeting. This is what I can confirm. I can also confirm that there were no other symptoms, apart from the dyspoea, nausea, panic, and irritation in the upper nasal area and throat. I also want to mention that the wounded do not live close to one another and reside across a large area. [It seems] that more than one rocket was targeted. We [the doctors], as well as the paramedics, were affected by the strong smell of the clothing of the injured and began coughing.”
Douma lies in the besieged rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, which has faced intensified attacks in recent months. Witnesses reported that a pungent smell spread through the area after missiles were targeted.
The VDC interviewed Jihad Al Muhamad, who resides in the area that was hit, “On the morning of January 22, at 5: 40am, a number of missiles were fired from the regime controlled suburb of Harasta near Duma, about 2 kilometres away from us. The sound of the missile was similar to the sound of the ‘elephant’ ground-to-ground missile used by regime forces in the recent period of shelling in Douma and Ghouta.
But when the missile hit the ground it did not explode and this caused me to worry. I heard the sound of gas coming out of the rocket and realized that this is a poison gas. I saw the remnants of four missiles that landed near my house and spread the smell of gas in the area. I witnessed about 7 injured people who were being assisted by the Syrian Civil Defence. After inhaling the gas, I experienced very difficult breathing and eye tearing and I was taken to the medical point. The smell of the gas was similar to the smell of chlorine but with a very strong concentration.”
The VDC has documented a number of suspected chlorine gas attacks by Syrian government forces and other chemical weapons on rebel-held areas since the beginning of the conflict, which have killed hundreds.
The use of chlorine as a weapon is prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention. Syria joined the convention in the aftermath of the August 2013 sarin gas attack and agreed to the destruction of its deadly agents.
Russia has recently vetoed the renewal of a joint investigative mechanism of the UN and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons. This is particularly alarming given that two suspected chlorine gas attacks have taken place in less than two weeks. Without the renewal of the joint investigative mechanism, the ability to identify perpetrators is undermined.
The VDC has repeatedly called on all members of the Security Council to carry out the steps necessary to investigate suspected chemical attacks, identify culprits and hold them accountable.