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Monday, November 27, 2017

What Happened December 6 and 22, 2012 in Daraya?

The First Bodies Tossed Across Obama's Red Line
Part 3: What Happened December 6 and 22, 2012 in Daraya?
November 27, 2017
(incomplete)


The oldest CW allegation you'll hear about from France or Israel or the United States was in Homs city, back on December 23, 2012. This confused incident is explored in part 2 of this series, but in review:

The opposition lodged clashing claims - a poison that seemed to be either sarin or the non-fatal incapacitating agent BZ (or maybe both?) was reportedly released by government forces, killing 6 civilian men and one rebel fighter (per opposition records). That was mostly reported at the time as 7 fighters. Western experts dismissed it at the time as some murky mystery and- something like tear gas gone awry - not a real CW incident and not over Obama's red line. It stayed like that for three months, but as soon as Syria was demanding a probe of the March 19, 2013 Khan al-Assal attack (see part 1), France, the UK, and the US decided this case and one other (and then some others they scraped up) also needed to be investigated just as urgently, helping to jam up and stall Syria's requested probe. (see Was the Syria Chemical Weapons Probe "Torpedoed" by the West?)

An event those powers didn't include in their growing list, and still won't tell you about, happened one day earlier than this first widely-known CW attack, with the same death toll of seven. In fact, it seems kind of like the Homs incident was cooked up to distract from or shift the implications of this preceding event. These 7 bodies tossed across Obama's red line without note were Syrian Arab Army soldiers. Back then I created the ACLOS page Alleged Chemical Attack, December 22, 2012. There's not much details to share, so it's all included below and then some.

Two Reported CW Attacks in Jobar
On December 6th there was the first claim of CW use that I ever noticed (ACLOS page), coming just after Obama's December 3 re-iteration of his "red line" threat/offer (the first instance I had noticed - I didn't know he'd said it already in August). It was just three days later that the threat was snubbed or the offer taken, at least tentatively. And it was in Daraya, southwest Damascus suburbs, where reports came in of poisonous gasses "thrown" by government forces engaged there. This was from the well-connected Local Coordinating Committees, with no details and no word on casualties (presumably no deaths).

Times of Israel reported on these claims December 7, citing the LCC report with no more detail, but supporting it claims from a supposed CW defector. Captain Abdul Salam Abdul Razaq is cited telling a Saudi paper that Syria was already using mustard gas and sarin (both described as nerve agents) routinely, using sarin to clear any area before entering (since it was odorless, not foul-smelling, and evaporates in 30 minutes...). This logic-impaired Wahhabi activist "also pleaded for international assistance in taking control of chemical weapon sites, which he claimed defectors have accurate intelligence about." 

Anyway, no deaths or details, like who if anyone was even affected, were ever reported. So the December 6 incident is a fairly weak claim itself, and we're done covering it. But that's not to say it was based on nothing. It does have chemicals used, apparently in some response to Obama's renewed offer, and the people with possible plans to dross the red line were in Daraya, which rings likely considering the following.

16 days later, pro-government sources reported, a group of Syrian soldiers was in Daraya and had toxic gasses somehow thrown at them. Iranian news first reported this, saying only that the gas was yellow in color, and the seven who died did so within an hour or less. (via ACLOS page)
Militants fighting against the Syrian government have used chemical weapons against the army in Daraya near the capital, Damascus, military sources say.
According to a commander of the Syrian Presidential Guard, at least seven Syrian soldiers were killed on Saturday after they were attacked by a chemical weapon which produced a toxic yellow gas.
The soldiers were reportedly killed within an hour after inhaling the gas.
A later OPCW report (a revised version only, available via Zanders blog and now ACLOS) mentioned this incident being reported by the Syrians, sort of a side note from the past. The details they share in their report are exactly the same.
 2.4 In addition, Note Verbale 150 made reference to an attack where it is alleged that toxic gases were employed against Syrian Arab Army soldiers on 22 December 2012. According to the note verbale, seven fatalities occurred as a result of exposure to a yellow gas. These fatalities happened within one hour of exposure.
This strangely adds almost exactly nothing to what we already knew. Is that all the Syrians handed the OPCW, or is it just all they shared with us? But coming later, from the government, that death toll should be updated to reflect the final count, if the first reports didn't. But it's still 7, with no delayed deaths added later. That's noteworthy.

Sarin Attack? 
There's no further mention of the December 22 incident in the OPCW report; it seems they didn't investigate it. But after noting it, they did bother to explain in the other cases, "those affected in the alleged incidents may have, in some instances, been exposed to some type of non-persistent, irritating substance" (like chlorine) and in one case (Daraya, Feb. 15, 2015) exposed to a "sarin-like substance." [2] It's not spelled out, but between possible inclusion and implied exclusion, they suggest the December 22 attack was likely by chlorine or some similar in action, and not by sarin. This makes it seem a bit less interesting than it perhaps deserves to be. 

In fact, those 10 irritant cases tend to NOT be chlorine attacks as presented (see big events list here). Whatever it is (apparently 2 or 3 different things), it sometimes smells like chlorine, but other times rotten or burnt smelling. And it tends to incapacitate people and make them pass out in a way chlorine usually doesn't, but that sarin, for example, does. The agent(s) used are not identified, and worth more study. 

In that OPCW list, a yellow color does not come through in most cases, but in the bigger list of all similar claims, it tends to be the most common, which is a potential match for this December 22 attack. No one says anything else we've heard. The delivery weapon is not described. No smell is reported. Types of symptoms that proved fatal are unexplained. It's not clear if "they suffocated with damaged lungs (chlorine)" or "they had their nervous system disrupted and stopped breathing" (sarin) is the better description.

But 7 dead, so quickly, would be quite unusual for chlorine, whereas it's to be expected with sarin. Extreme exposure will paralyze instantly and kill within seconds. Most fatalities will occur after some minutes of struggle, and occasionally they'll live longer, perhaps in a coma, before dying. If this had been sarin, for example: One might die instantly, four more within ten minutes, four others might struggle for up to 30 minutes, and one guy's nearly-survival was cancelled after 50 minutes. Statistically, maybe 12 others would stabilize and recover for some days, 22 others would be unaffected or recover within minutes to hours and be discharged that day or the next. That's a lot not to mention, but no one has asked, that I've noticed.

If it were chlorine, maybe a group was pinned down under fire, and hit with a strong dispersion, waited too long too run, suffered massive damage, suffocated fairly quick with shredded and blood-filled lungs.  But there should be others who got near as much and at least died after a longer struggle. But it sounds like the dying stopped after an hour at seven and everyone else pulled through. Large-scale chlorine deaths will hardly ever stop after an hour. They'll usually go on for days before there's a final toll. So unlikely this was chlorine or anything as simple. More likely, it was a nerve agent, or at least something more acutely fatal. 

Why would Syria not report this? It's possible they didn't even know or do the right tests, and it's possible they did know and concealed it for some reason, or told the OPCW and they neglected to mention that even as they argued against it.  

And consider this:

Sarin in Daraya, 2013-2015
Daraya is next to Moadamiya, where the West Ghouta portion of the Aug. 21 chemical massacre was said to happen. The area including both towns was effectively a pocket at the time, cut off from other rebel areas in East Ghouta. If there were any false-flag shenanigans with sarin here, it would be from sarin held locally in Moadamiya and/or Daraya.

Soldiers would be hit with sarin in Daraya later, confirmed, twice...
8-25-2013: Ahrafiya Sahnaya is a town just south of Daraya, given as the local of an incident on August 25, 2013. Actually it was at the sewage treatment plant between the two towns, so basically Daraya. For the third time since the Ghouta massacre on the 21st, rebels had hit Syrian soldiers in Ghouta with serious toxins - two were confirmed by the OPCW as sarin, including this one.
A cylindrical canister was thrown with a catapult, around 7 or 8pm, released a "foul-smelling smoke" that caused decreased consciousness, nausea, AND it was an irritant, causing lung damage, eye  irritation, besides miosis, fatigue, and hospital stays of almost a week.

2-15-2015: 18 months after that 8-25-2013 incident, just 1.8 km northwest of that spot, and still on the frontline, another group of soldiers was hit with a smoke weapon that had a strange smell "like burning nylon" and caused burning in the eyes and lungs. This incident is also confirmed by the OPCW as sarin (from the same report, and this case has some detail, also explored in this post here). No one died, but four soldiers suffered notable exposure ("blurred  vision, teary   eyes,   runny   nose,   dizziness, headache, breathing difficulties, mild fatigue, and nausea."), and one had severe impairment, lost consciousness, and may have come near dying. 

just where the 12-22-2012 attack happened is one of many things that's unclear about it. Was it the same then as in these later cases? Was that yellow gas foul-smelling and caustic?

But whatever it was, in the end what matters more is who used it and what that says about their capabilities - technical and moral. There's been no suggestion the government gassed their own, but that would probably come up if pushed - but it seems probably rebels did this, and the very next day, someone decided to create the impression Syria was tossing poison gas, and not in Daraya but up in Homs. As I'll be adding there too, "Assad" may as well have left this note attached to that Homs attack.

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