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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What Happened April 26 in Barzeh?

The First Bodies Tossed Across Obama's Red Line 
Part 7: What Happened April 26 in Barzeh?
December 13, 2017
edits 12-21

This little-noted alleged incident was noted at the time at ACLOS (still mainly on the talk page), and nothing was ever added. I can't even find any more information now, and all the original citation links are now dead. But it was cited thoroughly, and with expanding context, it's worth a review at least. I've already included it under possible sarin attacks in my big events list.

The reports I found in 2013 were two in number, both citing Syrian (normal, pro-government Syrian) newspaper Al-Watan (the Nation - website). I never did try or find the original report. It would be Arabic, and used to not even try that much. One of my two sources was in Arabic, and after translating that, I guess I called it good enough. The Al-Watan report may still exist on the internet, but I haven't found it yet in a few searches. If any reader can find it, let me know in comments, please.

Cited sources:
The effects of “Free Army” using chemical weapons in Barzeh (translated from Arabic title). Breaking News.sy, April 28, 2013 http://breakingnews.sy/en/article/16423.html (no longer comes up, can't be found)

"Symptoms of chemical gas occur in some Syrian soldiers: report." Xinhua News English (China), April 28, 2013 http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2013-04/28/c_132347695.htm (no longer comes up, can't be found)

The Xinhua report is easier to read, but contains less detail. Mainly I'll cite Breakingnews.sy, improving on my first auto-translation preserved at ACLOS.

Incident and Background
"Many victims from the ranks of the Syrian Arab Army" were brought to Hamish hospital on Friday, the 26th, "including martyrs, who have died due to inhalation of chemical gases." The soldiers were reportedly gassed in the course of clashes in Barzeh al-Balad neighborhood "between Syrian Arab Army and the entrenched armed terrorist groups in the neighborhood for many months." "Paramedics at the site reported that a shell landed, fired from inside the Barzeh at the Syrian Arab army forces based in the outskirts of Barzeh," which released the poison.

I'm not familiar with the situtation then, but a Wikipedia article on the area battles notes for this day:
On 26 April, government forces continued with their offensive by pushing into the Damascus districts of Jobar and Barzeh, which have a high rebel presence. Troops were encountering heavy rebel resistance as they advanced with air and artillery support. Rebel positions in the nearby Qaboun district were also bombarded with mortars and multiple rocket launchers.
Barzeh Al-Balad on Wikimapia (and see below): a good-sized northern district, at the edge of Damascus proper and the start of Islamist-dominated East Ghouta. Military and intelligence facilities are just south of it and Tishreen Military Hospital to the north, Bazrah orchards, Douma, Harasta to the east, and Qaboun and Jobar south, and a couple other Barza sub-areas to the west.

The cited hospital is probably Ahmad Hamish Hospital, further into Barzeh proper - in fact in Bazreh Hamish district, per the label. So the government push should be to the east from this area, and the incident should be near the border between districts (rough lines here, per Wikimapia), in or near the orange area. They would probably be fired on from further east or maybe north. That's all we can say for the moment.   

CW Effects  and Type: Sarin?
The chemical weapon caused, among other symptoms, a "white substance from their noses and mouths," with emphasis on its exuding or "trickling" out. This is presumably what they usually call foaming at the mouth, from fluid in the airways, an effect common to many poisons, especially those that damage the airways - including our nasty, impure sarin and/or foul irritant package as used in Syria. We can say they'll also be suffering from difficult breathing, which must have killed a couple. Xinhua's report used the words "suffocation." 
<add 12-21>Of course sarin specifically interferes with breathing by shutting down the muscles needed - it's more paralysis than anything, and a severe case won't even move enough air to form the bubbles that make that "foam." Sarin nwill cause vomiting, increased secretions (saliva, mucous), so they'll have liquid, foamy or not. So that's one breathing problem, and cautic impurities also damage the airways, adding to problem.<end 12/21>

Importantly, the agent cause secondary contamination, as sarin (among other things) will do. Breakingnews.sy:
“Upon arrival of the affected people to the emergency room in the hospital and medical personnel start dealing with the injuries, the medical staff suffered severe nausea followed by cases of fainting, but it was a lighter than the affected people from the frontline. This caused the injured to be sent to another hospital in Damascus."

The report gives no details on the nature of the gas, like its color or smell, just "inhalation of a strange gas” causing these effects. But a decent guess is: yellowish and foul-smelling, and pretty irritating to the eyes and airways. The effects sound a lot like sarin, although it's far from conclusive:
- labored breathing ("suffocation") and foaming from the mouth/nose, consistent but general 
- loss of consciousness, is more indicative, but also general
- nausea is less common, consistent with sarin 
- death (plural "martyrs", not clear if two or more): only so many thing will cause actual death - even sarin attacks in Syria only causes a few or none, usually.
- secondary contamination causing similar effects in people touching the victims: this is a pretty strong indicator of something like sarin.   

Furthermore, the time and area suggest it's quite likely (see below).

Notes on the Lack of Note

No Western news stories reported this, and in fact the few sources who did reported two days later, and no longer have the stories up. Three days later (a day after those low-key news reports) another regime sarin attack would be reported loudly in Saraqeb, yielding the clearest sarin traces yet, from a Jabhat Al-Nusra-linked hand grenade, said to be dropped from a regime helicopter. 

But this day, nothing chemical made the news, except for Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird saying, as CTV News summarized: "There is no reason to doubt reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria." "We would like to see a full investigation by the United Nations," Baird is quoted saying. But in the meantime, as he saw it, "there's no reason to discount or doubt what Israel and the U.S. are reporting." He was referring to statements from both nations that the Syrian government, and not rebels, had used sarin on at least two occasions so far.  "We suspect it's the government, we don't know it's the government," he said." One of those two incidents used the same helicopter-grenade scheme that would be repeated in a few days.

That UN-OPCW probe Baird called for had recently been stalled and denied entry, due to Syria's refusal to accept the unacceptable demands placed on their request for the probe (see here for that twisted tale). In the meantime, as CTV added, "Syrian officials denied Friday that government forces have used chemical weapons against rebels, marking Damascus's first response to the U.S. assertions."
"In the Syrian capital, a government official said President Bashar Assad's military "did not and will not use chemical weapons even if it had them." He instead accused opposition forces of using them in a March attack on the village of Khan al-Assad [sic]outside of the northern city of Aleppo."
That attack, in Khan al-Assal of course, is what sparked their request for the probe that no one could agree on at that time. It still looks like a terrorist attack, probably by Jabhat Al-Nusra, and it's now verified to have been done with sarin. They make no mention of a same-day attack right there in the Damascus area. Officials probably hadn't heard about this Barzeh incident yet, if it had even happened (time of day is one of the many things that remains unclear, but statements tend to come in the first half of the day, I think...). The cited articles are only from two days later.  

This incident really would help underline their case (probably, depending on details). Yet it doesn't seem they pushed for OPCW verification. This incident is not among those listed in letters from the Syrian government as reproduced in later reports. It could be they just don't bother reporting every incident for some reason - maybe some cases have embarrassing details the OPCW might latch onto (they often seem to focus on possible discrepancies to cast doubt on Syria's claims). And maybe they have reported it, but the OPCW just didn't share that. 

This apparent lack of follow-up on the government's part should be seen as a mark against the veracity of these reports. But it shouldn't be seen as much of one.

It wouldn't be unusual if sarin were used on April 26. All through mid-2013 in and around the East Ghouta area, civilians, rebel fighters, soldiers, and animals too were frequently poisoned and killed in attacks said to involve sarin, usually with consistent symptoms, and sometimes verified, somewhat, by non-professionals, like Le Monde journalists, using supplied urine samples, but in no cases by the OPCW (see especially part 6, Forthcoming). These findings clearly don't prove anything, but they might reflect real sarin use like in Khan al-Assal. It seems they had quite a bit of it to toss around, whoever that was, and this may well be one of those cases.

In almost every case involving soldiers through the years now, it's like this; they're on the offensive, have some Islamists cornered, then from that corner comes the foul-smelling poison gas... Considering the reports of pitched fighting, April 26 in Barzeh al-Balad is just the kind of time and place for this to happen.  

So the reports seem realistic and credible. There probably was another CW attack by foreign-backed terrorists that day, against young Syrian men, drafted into the Syrian army to defend their country. Can you imagine the outrage if this happened in any of our countries just once? But this is just one of dozens we know about. And these are just a sliver of the suffering willfully imposed on the people of Syria in this long and shameful campaign. 


  1. Thanks Adam. I don't know the lingo but I ask people who do. I'll let you know if I spot anything.

    1. Would be cool. I will probably try again too, but I had to give up to finish this post. I did try pretty hard and half-suspect Al-Watan pulled their story down too. But if so there might be a copy up, or in some archive or library...

  2. Syrian soldiers were exposed to an chemical attack on 26.04.2013 by the "opposition"

    The Syrian media reports that many Syrian Army casualties were delivered at the Hamish Hospital. Some of the soldiers died caused by the inhalation of the chemical gas.
    The poisoning of the soldiers became obvious by the excretion of a white substance from the nose and mouth.
    Al Watan quotes a medical source and says that the wounded came Friday from a battle between the Syrian Army and terrorist groups entrenched in the Barzeh al-Balad area for many months. The news was not formally confirmed, but the source stated that "after the arrival of the injured in the ambulance at the hospital and the beginning of the treatment of the injured, the medical staff suffered from severe nausea, followed by fainting. However, the symptoms were easier than those of the victims at the scene. Therefore, the injured were taken to another hospital in Damascus. The paramedics spoke of the impact of a projectile shot from the interior of Barzeh to the Syrian Arab army on the outskirts of the village. The source emphasizes that "the wounded in the Syrian Arab Army had no signs of gunshot wounds or wounds due to an armed confrontation, only the effects of the inhalation of a not common gas.
    source: http://www.breakingnews.sy/en/article/16423.html 

    One of the soldiers who died due to this chemical attack is well known
    "einer der Soldaten der durch diese chemischen Waffen ums Leben gekommen ist, ist ein Bekannter"
     Quelle: https://www.facebook.com/Syr.A.D.W/posts/464788666931331 

    Sunday 28 April 2013
    Terrorists use bullets containing chemicals in Damascus
    This is very serious news: There are new reports on the use of chemical weapons by the foreign-backed terrorists and jihadists in Syria. Recent ANNA-News reports that a group of armed terrorists used chemical weapons in an attack on an army unit in the Barzeh district near the Syrian capital, Damascus. According to current information, 10 Syrian soldiers entered the hospital - with symptoms of poisoning and cramping of their respiratory tract.
    Source: http://www.syrianews.cc/syria-terrorists-used-projectiles-filled-chemicals-damascus/ 
    Shalal and Amer (pseudonyms of two Syrian men interviewed by Al-Monitor) never believed that the supermarket they worked in more than 10 years ago near al-Akram mosque in the Mezze district of Damascus would turn out to belong to the family of a man who, even after revealing his face for the first time, continues to make the headlines.
    The man is Abu Mohammed al-Golani.
    Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/08/syria-who-is-jolani-jabhat-fateh-al-sham.html#ixzz4j7iUViPn


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