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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Mid-December, 2016 Hama CW Allegations

December 3, 2019

I just stumbled across this video I'd never seen, of an incident I'd never heard of.
Dec 10, 2016 Civil Defense in Hama dismantles unexploded cylinders

Description: The Civil Defense team found in the al-Ghab plain unexploded cylinders containing chlorine in agricultural land, which poses a danger to the lives of civilians as they are explosive and are being removed by the chemical team of the Civil Defense.

This seems to be just-now deployed, dropped by helicopter they say, in a little-noted regime CW attack... on some scrub grass?

This event seems to have gone pretty well ignored. My admittedly incomplete "red flags" report of early 2017 included nothing about it. 11-23, 28, 29 12-8, 12-9 (not 12-12) marked the end of those decried chlorine attacks accompanying the government re-conquest of all Aleppo city. Next in that report is the strange incident listed as 12-12 rural Hama. It's actually 2 events over a couple of days in ISIS-held turf, where Syrian or Russian forces were accused of killing dozens of civilians with sarin nerve agent, a disturbing renewal of use mainly stopped after the Ghouta gambit failed in 2013. But it wasn't decried so much, maybe disbelieved for coming from ISIS people, or on the idea civilians there only need protected by regime change - the same attitude held for residents of Damascus or any government-held area subjected to terrorist attacks. Anyway ...

And it was no fluke - a similar thing was alleged in Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April, 2017, where "moderate rebels" ruled; some 90 civilians died, believed to be from government-delivered sarin, and missiles were soon flying. The Uqayribat-area attacks are an underrate precedent to consider better than I or others have so far. So I'll use this post to consider these as well, now that I can add this: the December sarin attacks seem times with the panhandle chlorine … drop. The latter has no apparent purpose except to display relatively innocent chlorine once again, maybe to erase the news of sarin use about to be made? The twin events might have been co-crafted to indicate where "Assad's CW campaign" would go after the world failed to decry the gassing of E. Aleppo strongly enough, and a U.S. president Trump might refuse to recognize his predecessor's "red line" over CW use.

10 December: Chlorine barrel bomb
Just what's shown in the video is a bit confusing; something white in a field is blown up at 0:57, and items are recovered from a field next to torn white stuff.  The fields and days appear different, and it seems order is: first a chlorine barrel bomb - a true barrel in this case - impacted an empty field (reason for alleged drop unclear). Next, the parts of this were recovered, later piled up under a bunch of hotel towels and blown up for safety.

The date and location of use not clear, but presumably soon before (the 9th and 10th most likely), and in this unnamed spot in the al-Ghab plain of northern Hama province - probably in the southern part? A few White Helmets men and allied locals are seen or spoken to, but especially this guy, who looks familiar from at least one other CW events I've studied (Khan Sheikhoun, I think). Reader Andrew says this is Mohamed Kayal, head of the White Helmets chemical unit. He's from Khan Sheikhoun, and his brother was also a White Helmet, killed by the malevolent Russians in June, 2019 (as explained on Facebook and at Orient News).

Here's the collection site with danger sign, rusted barrel, maybe a prior warning sign crudely torn down?
What's shown is an unusual method of making a chemical bomb (said to be chlorine), which I at least have never seen. It uses a large, welded-shut steel or iron barrel, containing several small unusual cylinders with crude nozzles and hinged handles, apparently re-purposed to hold chlorine. The apparently including a cylindrical device that looks familiar, seen broken off in some detail. But another device at 0:30 is part of the chlorine destruction bomb. I included two frames from that in case it shows clues of just what they blew up (unlikely though - very brief view)

This type of bomb has been seen before, in fact, at least tice … f/c - Kobs tweet

11-12 December, Uqayribat area
There's not that much known about this incident, by me or much of anyone. It has two parts, a dawn attack on each of two mornings, blamed on Russian forces, and credited for killing about 75-100 civilians in two or three villages near the town of Uqayribat, inside Islamic State territory. For the moment, this is just a quick review of the available information:

A Closer Look On Syria: Alleged Chemical Attack, December 12, 2016
compiled the available sources at the time.

OPCW's FFM and JIM seem to have issued no reports about this incident, and perhaps none considering it at all. It did sound like there would be an investigation; a 13 December statement by the secretary-general described the recent allegations as being "of serious concern." But the results of any investigation seem hard to find.

Human Rights Watch report:
Clearly not to be trusted as factual, this is still the most valuable and detailed report I know of. The area is controlled by Islamic State: "The Dawood Brigade, which controls the area, declared its allegiance to ISIS in December 2013." There were two attacks reported, killing a reported 67 between them (Jrough Dec. 11, 25 dead - Al-Salaliyah Dec. 12, 42 dead), though HRW also heard reports of up to 93 killed. My own mapping of the area is at right. Both attacks were at about 7-7:30 AM, with clashing stories on the color and smell of the smoke, etc.

Other reports have death tolls at 86, 93, and "at least" 93, including at least 28 children, with a third attack at Hamada/Hamadi Omar nearby. Two released photos showed a row of five dead children in the back of a truck. I don't know of any imagery or even clear description what the blamed sarin-delivery weapon looked like or how it impacted.
Visual symptoms:
* foam, fairly white
* no cyanosis - if suffocation, not terribly prolonged
* splotchy skin, little evident irritation
* dark-sunken eyes appearance: no specific cause for that, and it's likely just shadow from the low light angle.
* smoky-bloody hands, bandaged forehead (on child in yellow LOLO shirt), fairly dingy clothes = signs of captivity, poor treatment

It's possible sarin killed them, but then if ISIS had sarin to do this with, could they have failed to use it in a bigger way, against Westerners, to make some news? It's also not the best choice if you do things the way Syrian Islamists seem to - captives in gas chambers can die from any cheap old chemical.

HRW: symptoms include breathing difficulties, red eyes or swollen eyes and vision problems, headache, lack of coordination, vomiting, swollen face, coughing blood, and dilated pupils (sarin causes the opposite), as well as constricted pupils (HRW notes the conflict), unconsciousness, convulsions, "hysteria." 

Re-examining the partial VDC record: they still in late 2019 have 34 killed: 33 from Jrouh village, one from Hamadi Omar, in the span Dec. 9-15. (Query result) For reference, HRW hears just 25 died at Jrouh. No others were listed differently - all Hama people killed Dec. 10-12 = the same 34 plus a few scattered others from the wrong towns.

An interesting twist: at least 24 of the 34, perhaps 27 or more, are from one family named al-Hassan. Is this the exact all-related 25 HRW heard about and saw no issue with? Extended families do often live near together and could thus fall to the same chemical attack, but still, this might be evidence of family targeting by ISIS.
* Adnan Mamdouh al-Hasan, his unnamed wife, son, daughter = 4
* his brother Sami Mamdouh al-Hasan, wife, 4 sons = 6
* their father Mamdouh al-Hasan al-Mhawesh = 1
* Hatem Mohammad al-Hasan = 1 (died Dec. 15)
* Mohammad Sfouk al-Hasan, unnamed wife, 5 sons = 7
* his brother Munzer Sfouk al-Hasan, 3 sons = 3
* their father Safouh al-Hasan al-Mhawesh = 1 (I don't know the meaning of Mhawesh on the 2 fathers)
* girls missing family names may relate = 2?
* Meriam Ali al-Abdulla might be another wife = 1?
Total = 24-27 of 34.

How many died in the other towns and why VDC didn't list them: unclear. Did the same family get targeted in different towns?  Did different families fare extra-poorly in each town as in Jrouh, or was it more random otherwise?

More perhaps forthcoming.


  1. WH guy is Mohammed Kayyal, head of the White Helmets chemical unit. Bit of info when his brother Omar was killed- the Kayyals are from... Khan Sheikhoun.


  2. Right, we see him also in Lataminah 3/30 as spokesperson of the Hazmat crew.


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