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Monday, March 12, 2018

Alleged CW Attack in Harasta, Nov. 18, 2017

March 12, 2018
(rough, incomplete)

I was slow to look at this, but there have been allegations of new sarin use in Syria, specifically in the East Ghouta theater, at least last November. It was apparently these allegations SecDef Mattis referred to as lacking in evidence (my post on the subject). From what I see, if the reported details are at all correct, this is another of the many attacks in Syria using impure sarin, fielded by opposition forces to blame the government.

This time they hit their own fighters if so (ones with Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya), but the use seems very limited, and apparently no one died or even came close to it. When the cartoon villain "Assad regime" regime gasses civilians, they drop sarin from a jet and a hundred die. When they attack fighters, as is the case here they lob a mortar or artillery shell or grenade and a few guys are sickened. Strange, that.

There are no news reports I could find, but some tweets mentioned it at the time:

@ArshiMisha 18 Nov 2017
Several suffocation cases among civilians &Rebels aftermath Assad Regime used chemical weapons on #Harasta,Medical sources confirmed that among the casualties:Severe respiratory failure, vomiting, eyes irritation &heart acceleration
#EasternGhouta_Nov 18
Gas attack by govt. forces against fighters on the frontlines in Harasta confirmed by medical staff. 37 injured. Undetermined chemical. Symptoms include vomiting, dyspnea, and pinpoint pupils. Eastern Ghouta 

Scott Lucas of EA Worldview was looking into it, hushing a troll to make time, but I didn't see any resultant report.

A later UN CoI report, A/HRC/37/72, Feb. 1,  addresses the claims, finding the government probably gassed the rebels a little with an organophosphate, perhaps sarin.
They accuse the government of "using chlorine against Faylaq ar-Rahman fighters in Ayn Tarma, Zamalka, and Jowbar (Damascus)  in early July (see A/HRC/36/55, para. 71)," as a  precedent for "the use of chemical weapons against Ahrar al-Sham fighters in Harasta."

In the early morning hours of 18 November, a number of weapons fell on the Harasta frontline. Minutes later, 25 fighters suffered from a combination of symptoms including blurred vision, unconsciousness, contracted pupils, shortness of breath, nasal secretions, vomiting, and headaches. Two other fighters who went to the rescue reported experiencing similar symptoms.
Victims were taken to a medical point where their clothes were removed, they were washed with water, and given oxygen, atropine, and pralidoxime. There were no fatalities. Most of the fighters were released from the medical point within 24 hours, though some reported suffering from symptoms up to three days later.
The symptoms reported and treatments described are consistent with a small-scale chemical attack involving an organo-phosphorous pesticide.

They conclude it was a small-scale attack from the small number of affected people, the moderate symptoms andquick recovery. They surmise "a small dose of chemical agent was released on the Harasta frontline."

15. The information available is insufficient to establish the weapons delivery system. Some victims said they did not see the weapon that caused the explosion, which released white smoke, and others said it was caused by an artillery shell. Second-hand information suggesting the agent originated from a hand-grenade, which would be an extremely unlikely delivery system, was denied by victims.

The first sarin reports accepted by the CoI in 2013 in fact centered on white smoke from hand grenades, dropped by regime force from a helicopter. I guess sarin hand grenades make less sense without a helicopter context?

While they disagreed on the method, which is familiar, "Interviewees consistently said they believed the weapon originated from Government forces positions." Well that must be it. If some rebels had tossed the shell, they would surely tell us that, but they *freely admit* it was the government side, using something that put out white smoke. "It is therefore concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Government forces used chemical weapons in Harasta on 18 November." Doot-dee-doo. That's some impressive detective work.

The described symptoms are consistent with a nerve agent. White smoke is mentioned, perhaps pale yellow rounded off, and hand grenades are mentioned then retracted. No foul smell is mentioned here, nor any caustic effects, but these tend to appear with sarin cases, both verified as involving sarin and not verified. My analysis of all reported cases finds it's impure stuff said to smell foul, strange, rotten, hard to place. It's yellow/orange to light yellow to white, as described, and is an irritant (burns the eyes and airways on contact like pure sarin wouldn't).

"Syrians for Truth and Justice" (STJ) issued a report on the incident shortly afterwards, compiling some short interviews, a video, some statements and a photo, into the only English-language source of any value I could find. The photo shows a man with green eyes displaying miosis - constricted pupils. His eye is also quite red and irritated. This is likely genuine, or not light-triggered constriction - only indirect light is used.

On Saturday morning, 18 November 2017, the Syrian regular forces launched a grenade attack loaded with a toxic gas believed to be one of the organophosphorus compounds according to the testimonies obtained by Syrians for Truth and Justice/STJ, the attack targeted groups of fighters of Ahrar al-sham al-Islamiyya Movement on the Military Vehicle Management Front in Harasta. The attack resulted in the wounding 39 combatants being light and medium, as many eyewitnesses have confirmed to a STJ reporter.
"At first, we thought chlorine is the gas used in the attack," two medics told them, based apparently on eye irritation and breathing problems, with no one mentioning a chlorine-like smell. but several hours later, several cases, about 15 injured, came back due to the worsening of
the symptoms....11 of them were placed into the intensive care unit
 clinical eye symptoms (conjunctiva redness, pin-eye pupils, watery eyes) and respiratory and neurological symptoms;
eye-pin pupils with a blurred vision, as well as chest symptoms such as a excess detachments in the bronchial tubes  and excessive salivation, as well as neurological symptoms represented by irritation, muscle weakness and muscle spasms"
"obvious respiratory and neurological symptoms of irritation, restlessness and convulsions with an absence of consciousness and symptoms of the eye, particularly the constricted pupils and pin-eye pupils,"
symptoms are "similar to that exposure of Sarin gas, but organophosphorus compounds have a stench that does not exist in Sarin gas.” It does in Syria. It's impure stuff said to smell foul, strange, rotten, hard to place.

video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYSAQ90q4Kg
one man with a red face wiggles as if restless. He's not a serious sarin patient if at all. These will be more paralyzed than fidgety, and more pale/blue than red. At least 4 peoples' eyes are shown in miosis and suffering some redness and watering. One set of eyes is brown, the rest green or hazel, as usual for almost every miosis case ever shown in Syria. It's made me wonder if they had fake miosis contacts made, all in green ... but never mind this. These eyes water more like they're just irritated than like sarin-effected eyes that would pour tears uncontrollably.

So the visuals are far from convincing, but by things said that could be true anyway, this fits the profile of alleged sarin attacks over the last 5+ years.

Side-note: two days earlier in Harasta, there was another alleged chlorine attack, sickening 4 journalists in Harasta besides whoever else (unspecified). A video of one reporter gasping appears like genuine symptoms, including eye irritation, etc.
The STJ report notes on the 16th "the Syrian regular forces threw mortar shells loaded with poisonous gas, believed to be chlorine gas," targeting Ahrar al-Sham fighters storming a Military Vehicle base in Harasta. The journalists affected are named as:
Mohammed al-Qaseer, Orient TV cameraman.
Mazen ash-Shami, director of Qasioun Office.
Mohammed al-Jazaeri, director of al-Jazira Office.
Diyaa ash-Shami, Step News Agency reporter.
Abedl Monaem Isa, a photographer.
"It is worth mentioning that this attack came hours after Russia vetoed a draft resolution submitted by the US to the Council security, which called for the extension of the work of the Joint United Nations Commission of Inquiry and the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons/OPCW."

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