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Suspected Chlorine Attack in Western Douma

The Health Directorate of Damascus / Damascus countryside reported to the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) that six women and one child have shown symptoms consistent with chlorine exposure after missiles targeted north-western Douma, a town in the outskirts of Damascus. The symptoms include feelings of suffocation, minor dyspnoea, nausea, and nose and throat irritation. The patients were treated at the Specialist Hospital in the Damascus countryside and no cases of death were reported.

Douma lies in the besieged rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, which has faced intensified attacks in recent months.  The area that felt the effects consistent with a chlorine attack is estimated to be 2km long and 3km wide; it has a strong presence of Syrian government forces and rebel fighters and is also home to many civilians.

Witnesses reported that a pungent smell spread through the area after the missile attack. The VDC office is located in western Douma, and Thaer Hijazi, the office manager, testified about the incident, “I woke up at seven o’clock on Saturday morning to a strong smell of chlorine. My eyes were tearing and I felt a shortness of breath.”

Alaa Al-Dira, a 32-year-old local of Douma, has family that resides in the western part of the town. “My family lives very close to where the chlorine missile hit. When I heard that an attack had taken place on Saturday morning, I went there immediately to check up on my family. I went and saw that my 15-year-old sister’s eyes were watering and she was coughing persistently. My family explained that they had woken up for morning prayers and later found themselves experiencing shortness of breath and eye tearing. My parents were also affected, but not as much as my sister, who is particularly sensitive. Luckily, no was in need of hospitalization,” he testified.

The VDC has documented a number of chlorine gas attacks since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, but the Syrian government has continuously denied using chemical agents.

While chlorine is not outright banned by international law due to its many civilian uses, the use of chlorine as a weapon is prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention. Following the Sarin gas attack of August 2013, Syria joined the convention and agreed to the destruction of its deadly agents. Yet chemical attacks continue to take place and threaten to weaken the strong ban against chemical weapons in international law.

It is highly alarming that Russia has recently vetoed the renewal of a joint investigative mechanism of the UN and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons, thereby undermining the ability to identify perpetrators of chemical attacks.

The VDC urges all members of the Security Council to carry out the steps necessary to investigate suspected chemical attacks, identify culprits and hold them accountable.