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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Fall, 2014 East Ghouta CW Attacks

January 20, 2019

I turn now to some neglected CW allegations around Douma, in the East Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, in the Fall of 2014. The summer saw a few reported regime CW attacks in East Ghouta, and just as many claimed against Syrian soldiers cornering Islamist militants in Jobar, Al-Maliha, Al-Kabbas, etc. ending with heavy and fatal attacks on August 29 in Jobar, 9/4 Jobar 9/10 Kabbas - then just a few attacks on civilians and rebel fighters were lodged for:

Adra, 24 Sept.
Harasta, 4 Oct.
Harasta 20/21 Oct.
Harasta, 25 Dec.

All had reported fatalities. The last two killed 3 and 1 rebel fighters and no civilians. Those may prove interesting on closer study, but here we'll just look at the two earlier attacks that killed only civilians, a total of 12 of them.

The chemical(s) used, if any, or the ones alleged aren't totally clear. Sarin was still in play, being OPCW verified in an attack on SAA soldiers in Daraya, in February 2015. But otherwise in this span - after the surrender of Syria's CW stocks - chlorine was the usual claim, by both sides. But frequently, as I'm finding, symptoms that chlorine would not cause are reported, or proven with videos. So it's not clear... Adra, 24 Sept. is said to be chlorine by one source, basis unclear, and otherwise goes unspecified like the rest.

I previously noted here how the alleged chlorine attacks earlier in 2014, in the Hama-Idlib area, had killed almost entirely people described as displaced from other towns. That might be some kind of code for people kidnapped and held hostage. They were almost entirely women and children, as if segregated, like hostages might be.

As it happens, these two later attacks in East Ghouta do the same, but killing strictly men, 12 in total and mostly seeming displaced. Details and reports are extremely vague and troubling. The visual evidence is limited but damning.

Adra, 24 Sept.
This regime gas attack was reported in Adra Omaliya, part of the sprawling Adra district northeast of Douma. It came nine months after a huge sectarian massacre and mass abduction there by Jaish Al-Islam (from Douma) and Jabhat Al-Nusra, working in tandem.

A French intelligence report cites this incident, vaguely, as causing symptoms of breathing difficulties and convulsions (not a chlorine thing).

Chlorine Gas on the town of Adra, Damascus on 24th September 2014: Chemical weapons attack appears to have occurred in Adra On September 24th, 2014. the videos related to this incident show many civilians as well as militant fighters were injured or who had been killed by the alleged chemical attack."

An exact location is given (33.6076513 36.5112588), but it's about in the middle of Adra (the original?), not in the cited Adra Omaliya, which is to the north. (so likely just marking "Adra" as the basic area - see map).

Adra has an industrial area, and the cited area for worker's housing, with status unclear to me in late 2014. In fact, thanks to a tip, I can see government forces were finalizing their re-conquest. The very next day, 25 Sept 2014, Al Jazeera reports "Troops loyal to President Assad capture from rebels Adra al-Omalia, located about 30km from central Damascus."

So this fits the noted pattern - the Syrian government allegedly uses CW attacks to clinch military offensives, as with the Douma attack just before the militants surrendered in April, 2018. Under this new horror, they had no choice but relent, to save lives … (but they didn't surrender after they say 1,000+ were killed in Ghouta in 2013).

Who Were The Victims?
In the Douma case, it was also a last chance to kill hostages before militants surrendered their weapons and boarded government-supplied green buses headed north. That won't apply so clearly in 2014, when the militants retreated from Adra Omaliya on their own terms, to Douma and other areas still held, taking whatever and whoever they wanted. But still, if they had any hostages they'd rather cash in than pack up and move, maybe some sick ones, etc... this would be the time to blame Assad for their deaths.

"Workers in Adra" comes up in translation for who was attacked, but it's part of the area name: Omaliya = workers, district is implied. A video title (video 1, alt. posting) says the attack injured prisoners ( الاسرى ), but it's possible the word is families ( الاسر ) with an extra letter related to the date (? not normal, but possibly a local dialect thing). But only men are shown, not families. They don't wear prison uniforms, but it's not clear prisoners of Jaish Al-Islam ever did.

The opposition VDC (based in Douma) lists 7 men killed by Chemical and toxic gases, all civilian, largely displaced/refugees, from across Syria and Iraq who came to be here when the gas was released. Notes: "Due to inhaling chemical and toxic gases which been shelled on the area by the regime army forces, 15 have been injured and 7 dead."


* Tawfeeq Mahmoud Hasan from Lattakia
* Ali Younes Akeel from Other Nationalities: Iraq
* Loay Talal Mohammad, from Damascus Suburbs
Imad al-Deen Bader Haydar from Hama, Salamia
Kinan Imad al-Deen Haydar from Hama, Salamia (pres. the former's son, adult by listing)
* Abdullah Mohammad al-Sanari from Damascus Suburbs, Adra Balad
* Mohammad Jasem al-Hosain from Damascus Suburbs, Wafideen Camp

None of these details is really guaranteed to be true, but as the only thing to go on … It's quite a varied roster for placed of origin. In all cases, it seems quite possible the victims were Alawites (majority in distant Latakia), Shi'ites (slight majority in distant Iraq, many fleeing sectarian violence having settled across Syria), other non-Sunnis, or supporters of the Iraqi and Syrian governments in their fight against terrorism. But it's also possible they're all opposition-supporting Sunnis, arrested for some legitimate crime.

Three videos located so far.

Video 1: 2:25 Sham Damascus countryside Adra workers ambulance injuries after the bombing with poison gas 24 9 2014 Video warning too harsh https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7eP5hOuvTA description adds little.
alt posting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz8iQKQf3L0 تنسيقية دوما|| إسعاف المصابين جراء القصف بالغازات السامة على عدرا العمالية وإصابة الاسرى24/9/2014 Douma Coordinating Committee || Ambulance Injured by shelling Toxic gases On Adra Workers And injury prisoners 24/9/2014

video 2: at Syrian Archive (can't seem to link directly) "Casualties of the chemical attack" 2:30 shows militants treated, variously convulsing, agitated, or spaced out and moaning.

Video 3: 0:50
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZB8oRrQ6W8 available - third video. shows militants deeper in treatment تنسيقية دوما || إستخدام الغازات السامة على عدرا العمالية في محاولة لإقتحامها Always Coordinate || The use of toxic gases on workers in Adra in an attempt to break into it not at Syria archive, coming via VDC

Clinical Signs
Usually, this is where we look at the effects of the chemical weapon to determine what sort it was. But in this case, there are no such signs visible (not that there always will be), and instead, we're looking at wounds caused by weapons or physical violence... none of them clearly fatal, except maybe to the Assad chemical attack narrative.

In video 1, three civilian men are brought in seemingly dead from the start, are splashed with water, and bleed from various wounds, including to the chest. One living man who could be a militant but shares features with the others, including bleeding chest wounds, was already there. In video 2, that man is still being treated, the other 3 are where they were, a possible bloodier body has appeared, and mainly militants brought in after, affected less fatally, bleeding only - and it's a lot - where one of them was injected in the arm. Video 3 shows the militants after they've mostly calmed down.

Ignoring the militants focused on in videos 2 and 3 - none of who seems to have died - we'll consider five possible fatalities - of the seven reported - in order of appearance:

V1: older man, bleeding scrape on the cheek, blood on stretcher? No other bleeding or wounds clearly visible.(both sides of his chest and the front seem clear).
Chemical signs, in case it matters: No fatal-looking wound faintly suggests he died a non-violent death, as by chemicals. But like the others, he shows no sign of coughing up foam, mucous, blood, or anything to show a chemical crisis in their lungs. He has a gasping expression, but this is common to many kinds of death. The whites of his eyes seem to be plain white, not red (no notable irritation, as with chlorine, or impure sarin, or most unknown chemicals used in the conflict).

V2: next we see a living patient, with 2 small holes poked in left side of chest, app. bleeding, seeming dark colored as if infected wounds from some prior events. (?) Another wound at least on the chest, near right nipple, is bleeding (blood runs with splashed water). None of the 3 seen wounds seems to be serious like gunshot wounds.
Chemical signs, in case it matters: white eyes, strange mellow agitation, breathing problems suggested by nebulizer mask, but not by any seen gasping. He seems dazed but somewhat alert, and fairly cooperative.

Note: there's no obvious similarity, but the first two patients in are an older man and a younger one, and the lists give a father and son pair among the dead. So these might be the Haydars from Salamia, if the younger one wound up dying...

V3: a middle-aged but fit, bearded man in green shirt, has a hole poked in left side of chest, bleeding (see running that appears after a splash and/or jostling to place V3, small blood spots prior on undershirt - was this was put on him well after he was done with most bleeding, after he was dead? There seems to be more active bleeding app. from the lower left leg. He also sports a previously bandaged left hand.
Chemical signs, in case it matters: possible cyanotic face (purple hue, increasing towards the forehead), but not clear enough to call. White eyes. Again, no sign of coughing blood or foaming at the mouth, etc.

V4 balding man with mustache, hole poked in left side of chest, seems to bleed a little on splash. From wherever, a larger amount of blood seems to smear and spread under his lower back. When first laid down, it seems his entire shirt is stained red in the back. Pale, slightly emaciated (ribs visible, and sunken eyes can be cause by malnutrition), but with a seemingly distended belly. Sickly yellow skin color. This man may have been quite ill, even if that's not what killed him. One enhanced view suggests bluish discoloration behind the wound, but other views don't, so this is unclear.
Chemical signs, in case it matters: None notable. White eyes, open as with the others. Irritated eyes will be pink to red and/or squeezed shut so we can't tell. Non-irritated eyes look like these.

V5? an even bloodier person brought in later? Or is this just the bloody laundry from the others, in a sizeable pile? From the first moments of video 2 (and note the chest wounds on V3 and V4 are both visible here, just blurry):
I'm not sure what to make of it. None of these holes looks quite like a recent fatal bullet hole, tending to look old and infected, especially with the delirious man. Is this a nasty infection making him ill? What about the others? What caused the holes? Some kind of torture? Or is it how they were killed?

This is unclear to me, but what is clear is that no Assad regime chemicals would poke holes in the victims' chests. Something else is at work in this Islamist-held area, on people the Islamists may have held prisoner, over some criminal offense or apostasy - maybe death penalty offenses. Maybe this wasn't the original plan on how to kill them, but things were rushed. By the following day, these militants would have to be gone.

Add 1-21: It's worth noting Jaish Al-Islam is known to use its prisoners for slave labor on digging tunnels, etc. and considering the details we have on what prisoners they didn't bother taking with them. The three dead men considered in detail above appear to be elderly (V1), having a broken hand (V3), and being seriously ill (V4). None of these seem like good qualifications in the Islamist labor market. These men might be considered disposable... and luckily, Assad's hole-poking gas bombs came along to dispose of them just in time, transforming some deadwood into one more little reminder for that big list of ruthless regime CW attacks Western pro-war hacks are so fond of maintaining.

Harasta, 4 Oct. 
The VDC lists 5 killed in this incident, but they're unusually logged under regime fatalities (other statistics). Alongside a baby Kurdish girl, killed in an ISIS mustard gas attack, they're the only six CW deaths listed there ("Chemical and toxic gases ").
Martyrdom location Damascus Suburbs: Harasta

Everyone in that database is listed as Status: Regime's army. Many, like the girl, are specified as rank: civilian. Some are known non-civilian, government and allied fighters - killed in combat or kidnapped from home doesn't seem to matter. That's the bulk of this database, but not by a wide margin. And many, like these men, are Rank: unknown.

* Mouahmmed al-Basha from Yabroud
* Ody Hanyfieh from Nabek
* and three Unidentified men from Nabek

Yabroud is some distance north of Damascus and Douma, and Nabk (Nabek) is a bit further north of that. Both towns had been overrun by Jaish Al-Islam in 2013, just as Adra was. Ostensibly, these 5 men weren't kidnapped from there, and aren't specified as prisoners. But all had left their home towns and were living in Harasta - which is right next to Douma and run by Islamists allied with Jaish Al-Islam - when, as the VDC puts it, they died "Due to chemical strike by mistake by regime forces."

Since when does the regime gas people by mistake? Allegedly, from the beginning. People they didn't mean to hit might be soldiers or allied fighters, maybe off-duty or retired - people hanging out with the same - government supporters - just non-Sunnis. For example, hitting Shia civilians and Syrian troops with sarin in Khan Al-Assal, Aleppo, in March, 2013 has been called a regime accident. Here, the people the Assad didn't mean to gas were displaced deep behind "rebel" lines, but the idea is probably the same.

There's no Syrian archive entry for this incident, and it's not in the French intel report, not reported or explained anywhere else I've seen. No known videos. Were these more prisoners/hostages? Did they have even more obvious signs of execution by weapons, making videos seem like a bad idea?

There were no more Adra Omaliya attacks, and no deadly CW attacks at all in East Ghouta, for the rest of 2014, aside from two more in Harasta. Perhaps for balance, Assad's toxic gas killed militants in both of these cases, and civilians in neither.

Harasta 20/21 Oct.: Not in French intel report cited here. But a Syrian Archive page exists, noting (wrongly?) "This incident was included in published reports on chemical weapons attacks created by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs." (maybe in another report) There it shows one video of a distraught wailing, agitated man who struggles as people hold him down and cut off his shirt, all with bare hands and no ill-effect. This is taken as convulsions, as if from a nerve agent. notes one death.

The VDC lists one dead militant "Due to Chemical and toxic weapons use by the regime army forces on one of the front lines"

Harasta, 25 Dec.: 3 rebels "Martyred Due to Chemical and toxic weapons use by the regime army forces on one of the front lines of Damascus- Homs road."
Luckily no civilians died in this Christmas CW attack. If any had, we could guess they might be Christian hostages.

There is no Syrian archive entry, and it's not in French intel report. However: LCC Facebook post at the time claimed 2 dead from a regime chlorine gas attack.
Zaman Al-Wasl article (Arabic - no review) https://www.zamanalwsl.net/news/article/56549

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