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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Syria Chlorine Allegations: 2014 Attacks Target IDPs

Syria Chlorine Allegations: 2014 Attacks Target IDPs 
August 8, 2015
last edits August 9

This post will cover what might be the first chlorine attack allegations in Syria - at least the first that got wide attention - after the Syrian government (aka "Assad") surrendered its stocks of Sarin and other chemical weapons. In fact: on April 22 it was reported by the UN that about 90% of that work was done, with the remainder on track (Xinhua - L.A. Times) Starting April 11 and continuing into the summer, aerial attacks with chlorine gas were alleged on both sides of the border between Hama and Idlib provinces in central Syria. At least four of these attacks among many more had a death toll, killing a over a dozen civilians between them, besides injuring hundreds.

The emphasis of the mainstream media/Western government/Human Rights group complex has been on the helicopter allegation and the metal canisters found after, with stamps from a Chinese arms maker. The implication of Syrian military authorship is taken as obvious. But the following connections are all alleged, and open to question:
- that these canisters fell from an aircraft,
- and then released chlorine,
- which is what caused the widespread medical problems,
- and what caused the few important deaths.

This research was first begun and will finally be assembled on the relevant ACLOS (talk) page, with this pit-stop to help sort-out this important angle in readable form. We've found it's more instructive to look at victim dynamics, from clinical signs and symptoms to age and gender distribution, family relations to other victims, or victims of other incidents that might suggest targeting, etc. Video evidence shows later alleged chlorine attacks had their death toll augmented with drug overdoses, for example (see here). In the later cases and the ones considered here, victim records from opposition sources - taken with a grain of salt - provide some potentially crucial clues. Any combination of details could be untrue, but just taking what they say and reading between those lines, an alarming picture emerges, as we'll see below.

The third report of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), from December, has much info on the attack allegations, timelines (sometimes confusing) and patients treated but not dead, demographics, symptoms, treatments. This is not available from the OPCW that I can find, just the US State Department - their PDF. They outline quite a few alleged incidents, but here we'll consider just four - the deadly ones.  As the report puts it:
7.19 The outcome of exposure to the toxic chemicals used was fatal in 13 cases (three in Talmenes, eight in Al Tamanah, and two in Kafr Zita). One had died immediately, nine en route to higher medical echelons, and three in a specialised hospital outside the Syrian Arab Republic. All these individuals were close to the impact site of munitions containing toxic chemicals.
(note "outside the Syrian Arab Republic" here means Turkey, operational base for anti-Syria rebels in the north and home country of OPCW director Ahmet Uzumcu, FWIW)

To their 13, I call 16 dead total. The chemical part is questionable in some cases, but might be arbitrary, as they were all quite likely rebel captives deliberately killed to coincide with the staged chlorine events. 
April 11 Kafr Zita 5 dead
April 18 Tamanah 4 dead
April 21 Talmenes 3 dead
May 22 Tamanah 4 dead
(see map below) The only disagreement I can lodge with the OPCW's totals is over the first and most interesting attack. 

An interesting pattern the OPCW either didn't notice or didn't make much of is that all but three of these fatalities were internally displaced people (IDPs). "Displaced" people might be a coded way to say captives siezed from their hometowns and held elsewhere.

Below, we'll consider the first attack and victim records in some detail, to raise the controversy. The other three will go more in passing. There was also a strange simultaneous chemical attack in Harasta, East Ghouta, Damascus - toxic gas, never specified as chlorine - that killed 3 rebel fighters on April 11, and maybe again on the 16th. This has to be considered here too, at the bottom.

April 11, Kafr Zita
A Brutal Inaugural Attack
This attack has 2 rebel videos of the sunset attack that started the first chlorine campaign with the deadliest bang. Convient, all that. Reports said around 100 were effected, 5 of them seriously, but none fatally. One or two others died from head injuries caused by the initial explosion of the chlorine bomb, it was said. Both were IDPs.

VDC report,  April 14 (PDF) relates the death toll is unclear but low, and “no one died because of the gas as a direct reason." They specify the same two victims most have: 1) an "unidentified girl whose head was injured," with the gas maybe contributing to her death but not the main cause 2) "Mustafa Ahmad al-Muhammad, about 70 years old, from Morek, also died as a result of a head injury." The report also mentions "it is worth mentioning that most of the injured were displaced from the neighboring city of Mork." Yes it is. 

VDC entry: Mustafa Ahmad al-Mohammad age 70, from Morek. Martyrdom location Hama: Kaferzita, killed 4-11 by Warplane shelling. Notes IDP, Due to explosive barrel shelling on the town, injured in the head, his daughter died in 16-04 due to inhaling chemical and toxic gasses which has been used in Kaferzita.
-- VDC entry: Marwa Mustafa Ahmad al-Mohammad AF age 30, single, from Morek, Martyrdom location Turkey. Cause of Death: Chemical and toxic gases. Notes Due to exposure to toxic Chlorine gas in Kafarzieta on 11-04-2014 where she was displaced.

That 30-year-old daughter isn't likely to be the unidentified girl who died right away. So including her, this must be at least 3 victims, with 2 dead in time for the VDC's report. But the VDC database - which should be more complete than the report, has no unidentified girl from Hama dying this day, nor any girls dying from shelling or CW (see VDC query).

There is a half-identified Idlib girl to die that day, "Martyred due to the air regime's helicopters shelling." This is Daughter of Shareef Qeytaz mother's name: Hayah Ahmed Qeytaz (not the usual "maiden" name). But she's from Maarat al-Numan, it says, a ways north in Idlib province, not from Morek. So  that's presumably unrelated bombing in Maarat Numan. But then where's the girl VDC said died in the KZ attack? The doctor there swore to it - he knew about the gas and injuries and felt the former worsened the latter - she was there, in a story, not some error. No mention of chlorine, nor of displacement, nor dying in Hama. But she's unidentified.  4-11 to 4-24, nationwide, all causes, only 37 girls to check against. Several are unidentified, but she's the only one from anywhere nearby and on the right day. It's not the same town the attack happened in, but as we'll see, that's the norm here - almost everyone dies away from home. And if that's not her, it's quite a coincidence that the VDC would miss her and also list this close replacement. The VDC misses relatively few victims, so it's likely this is how she was partly identified - they got her parents' names. And she was displaced to Kafr Zita like the Morek people, and killed there.

It probably means nothing but is interesting that Maarat Numan is the only place around that, with the middle letters removed, says Ma'an (see below if you don't know what that means).

And they either list her twice, or she had a sister or relative who also died: Rama Mahmoud Quitaz (suggests father named Mahmoud, not Sharif) Also from Maarat Numan, but died in Turkey, only on April 13. How many random shelling victims are sent to Turkey? We know CW victims get sent there for a second opinions, and have these odd delayed deaths. Notes: "Martyred due to her wounds sustained due to the regime air forces' shelling before two days." So, on the 11th ... wherever. Photo included: wrapped for burial, major black eye, small mark above other eye, face intact but head massively wrapped. Possible smoke-staining of nostrils and gums, would suggest prolonged smoke exposure during "displacement."

One related woman - Hayah Ahmed Qeytaz from Maarat al-Numan - is also listed, died by the shelling too, on the 11th nowhere in particular (so presumably wherever it happened). No images. Her name is that given for unnamed daughter's mother. Three female victims, each with an implied different father (Sharif, Mahmoud, Ahmed). No male Qeytaz victims, or same-area shelling victims appear (check Idlib Men, Idlib boys, Hama men, Hama boys, by CW or shelling, 4/11-4/16). That might be of interest; three is a bit low to declare gender segregation, but this is how hostages are kept by Islamists: men and older boys in one place, women and other children in another. 

On bombing-caused head wounds in the area, the entry next to Rama (the one with the photo above) also has a photo - a girl with a nasty head wound, not sword-shaped but suspect, activist holding a piece of her brain. Having been warned, see (optional) Ayoush Ahmed Sadeq al-Hammad age 6 Martyred due to regime`s army forces shelling of cluster bombs Kafrouma. Kaffar Ruma on Wikimapia is right next to Maarat al-Numan.

Are these Idlib Qeytaz females, or maybe even Ayoush, connected to the same-day attack in Kafr Zita? Nothing directly says so. But again, the VDC and all other sources are clear that an unidentified girl, no further details but maybe from Morek, had died on the 11th, for 2 immediate dead. Syrian state sources heard by the 12th, from sources they trusted, that two had died. If that girl isn't the one, the one is unusually missing. If it is her, we have another victim who died later in Turkey, and her mother, strangely unlisted, all faintly suggestive of gender-segregated hostages, described as displaced. The total dead would be five. Recall the opposition sources had five seriously effected besides the two dead - this suggests two others recovered, or maybe they died too and they just didn't get listed.

The Other Three Attacks
These so far have less controversy, but also just less detail. They might be really interesting as well, but we'll cover them quicker for now.

April 18: Tamanaah, Idlib
(just over the border, on Wikimapia)

VDC lists 3 victims: Amina Mustafa Iskandar, Adult - Female married with 2 children, from Khan Sheikhoun. Notes: IDP, a father and a mother and their son killed due to exposure to chemical and toxic gasses by the government force helicopter shelling. The others: Abdul Naser Hasan al-Sousy Adult - Male Mohammad Abdul Naser Hasan al-Sousy Child - Male video - specified as Amina's son, all from Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, same notes about being IDPs.

April 21: Telminnes, Idlib
(on Wikimpaia, next to Maarat Numan)
Reuters, 4/21:
 A Reuters photograph of another young boy who had been transferred to a hospital closer to the Turkish border showed him lying dead on a stretcher with blood around his mouth. Medics said he had been exposed to chlorine gas at Telminnes. Videos from the site of Monday's bombing showed the same yellow canisters, this time twisted from an explosion. 

VDC: all Idlib CW deaths in this span = 3 total from Telmenes. Mahmoud Abdul Razaq Hashash "Nawas" child-male, age 7, died 4-21 "Martyred due to exposure to Chlorine gas which was contained in a barrel bomb shelled on his house, delivered by the government helicopter" 2 delayed deaths in Turkey, both listed on April 25: Maryomeh Abdul Razak al-Hashash"Nawas, girl, 14, from Telmenes, "Martyred with her brother due to exposure to Chlorine gas which was contained in a barrel bomb shelled on their house on 21-04-2014, delivered by the government helicopter" Khadiga Mohammad Barkat, A-F, Telmenes, Martyred with due to exposure to Chlorine gas which was contained in a barrel bomb delivered by the government helicopter on a house on 21-04-2014

All have martyrdom location blank, because unlike the rest of these victims, by the VDC records, they died right where they were from instead of getting displaced first.

May 22, Tamanaah again
A month of non-deadly attacks passes, then one more to consider here. OPCW lists 4 dead in this attack, with some detail:
In another case, a mother aged 30 years, her sister aged 16 years, and two children (a five-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy) belonging to the same family died in an attack.  The autopsy for the male child aged four years was conducted on 23 May 2014 outside the Syrian Arab Republic.  The mother had died in the ambulance while being transferred, her sister died in Talmenes hospital, and the girl died at Saraqueb hospital.

VDC lists one of these only: Soad al-Alloshy  Adult - Female. From Hama: Soran  2014-05-22 Chemical and toxic gases Martyrdom location: Idlib:Tamanaah. Cause of Death: Chemical and toxic gases. Notes: IDP, due to inhaling Chlorine gas which has being delivered by Arial barrels shelling, due to sever breathing problems Generic Video  

If one member of this unfortunate family was chased out of Soran before dying in Tamanah, the others were too. Only the sister is clearly the case; the mother and the children aren't specified as being hers. But we have a woman, her teenage sister, two young children - as with the first attack, there are no correlating men or older boys listed.

Considered Alongside 2015 Attacks
Having looked at more frequent allegations in Idlib province this year, it's noteworthy how deadly these first attacks were - in 2015, some (36?) attacks reported from mid-March 16 onward, with 9 dead tota between them, 6 of those in the inaugural attack of March 16. In most attacks no one dies - realistically, it should be even lower - the one with six dead made no sense. Some kind of 'trapped in a basement' situation, with unexplained unconsciousness, is the reason given for these fluke deaths - Here, before rebels did enough research to know that - it's 3 people each in 2 attacks, with no explanation. Maybe they were all trapped in basements, but it's not specified.

In both 2014 and 2015, it's notable how the series of attacks had a 'first and worst' one to grab attention. In this earlier series, at least the unusual 5 dead was a) not reported all at once and b) had the head wounds to help explain why they died, perhaps in some basement for displaced people...

We don't have as much information on where the non-fatal victims were from, to see if these bombs only hit displaced people, or singled them out for death from a more mixed pool. Neither sounds very good. Only in the first case in Kafr Zita, the VDC report found it "worth mentioning that most of the injured were displaced from the neighboring city of Mork."

Displacement Overview
The map at right shows the directions - may be enough info to update this later - Morek (Mr. Mohammed and his daughter) and perhaps Maarat Numan folks (the Quitaz girls and woman) displaced to KZ died on April 11 attack -  April 18, family of 4 displaced from Khan Sheikhoun and killed in Tamanah - April 21, 3 implied locals - the only non-IDPs - killed in Talmenes - May 22, four total, at least 2 displaced from Souran, it says. 

So we have 11 or perhaps 13 out of 16 incident victims where were of that segment forced to run around the country since the "Arab Spring" started in Syria. This could have a few explanations:
- the "regime" is hitting them at random in civilian areas, either because there's just so many IDPs they're now a solid majority of KZ residents, or just by a strange fluke 
- the "regime" is hitting the displaced knowingly, aiming for just them, in civilian areas
- the "regime" is hitting them unknowingly in rebel lodgings near military sites (bad planning)
- same as above, but "displaced" mean rebel hostage, and they were placed in dangerous spots on purpose, as human shields
- displaced mean rebel hostage, and rebels just offed a few at a time to blame the government, as they lobbed a chlorine bomb to cause the right smell effect and supporting medical cases.

Implicitly, none of the 16 victims were Alawi, Christian, or supporters of the Syrian government. 

And it's clear by these records that no one who was "displaced" from Ma'an died in these attacks. This Alawi (Alawite) village right there in the same area, near Morek and Soran, in a white circle on the map. It was attacked by Islamist rebels in December 2012 with a reported massacre (see here) and again on February 9, 2014 (see here). In that second attack, about 20 soldiers were killed and, as SyriaNews.cc reports, "the Syrian authorities had recorded 42 victims, most of them old, but the missings list extends to 80 civilian.[sic]." This generally means taken captive, and note in support of that, the old were killed and the young taken.  Aside from Mr. Mohammed the victims considered here tend to be young.

There's been no public word on their fate, but in other instances, there are allowances for and/or evidence of sex slavery for younger women and older girls, re-education for children, and death for the men and older women - or, in lieu of all that, they can be used in prisoner exchanges. Could a few of these also be culled as props for renewed chemical weapon allegations? Sure, why not? The first and most likely case didn't even happen for two months after the abductions in Ma'an. That's long enough for most people to forget, if they ever knew, that dozens of expendable "Nusayri" citizens were being held in that area (besides whoever else they had abducted more quietly).   

For Consideration: April 11 (and 16?), Harasta
This is either unrelated or, as  time coincidence makes it seem, indirectly related. The April 21 Reuters report mentions at least four CW allegations just in in April, the third being "last week" in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, citing "footage of four men being treated by medics." VDC records of all CW deaths April 10-15 show only two - both unidentified non-civilians (rebels) killed in Harasta. Notes say "Three martyred due to regime use of chemical and toxic gasses on Harsta front in a tunnel, the three bodies couldn't be retrieved. VDC cannot confirm this directly." 

Date: April 11.Nothing like it for a long time before or after. Did the regime use a tunnel to gas people on the surface, or were the victims in a tunnel with the gas, as the inability to retrieve them suggests? If that's the case, were they actually transporting it? Was there a plan to have "Assad" attack both Hama villages and East Ghouta with chlorine on the same first day? If so, luckily, the second part - designed to revive memories of the Ghouta alleged Sarin attack 8 months earlier -  seemingly went fatally wrong for the planners.

A third entry, oddly, appears same day as Marwa from Kafr Zita died in Turkey, April 16. Abdullah Khalil Kharzom from Harasta. Date of death 2014-04-16. Cause of Death Chemical and toxic gases Rank FSA Notes: "Due to the regime`s army use of chemical and toxic gasses during the clashes in Harasta, he reached the feild hospital and his heart was stooped. he was announced dead after the failure of CPR." Video of the martyr (dated and uploaded April 17). 

CPR doesn't run 5 days. So different incident on the 16th/17th, with the 3rd guy from the 11th still not listed? Did the "regime" try again to gas the same area of East Ghouta after the first failure? Notice he also has a slight wound to the head, just behind the left eye - doesn't appear remotely fatal though.


  1. 15 May 2013
    156. The United Nations has received a growing number of reports of use of children by armed opposition groups, such as the Free Syrian Army. From accounts received, child association with the Free Syrian Army is often linked to an older relative facilitating recruitment or in instances in which the child has lost all members of his or her family. It is also linked to the fact that there is no central recruitment authority among the Free Syrian Army and that many forces are clan-based or village-based. Consequently, children, on average between 15 and 17 years of age, have been used in both combat and support roles, such as food and water portering and loading bullets into cartridges.

    A former Free Syrian Army combatant of Kafr Zeita village stated to the United Nations that children as young as 14 years were largely used for loading bullets, delivering food and evacuating the injured.

    Medical staff reported treating boys between 16 and 17 years of age injured in
    combat who were associated with the Free Syrian Army.

    157. The United Nations received information suggesting that schools and hospitals were targeted by the Government.

    Reports were also received of schools being used and damaged by armed opposition groups.
    A total of 167 education personnel, including 69 teachers, were reported to have been killed as at the end of February 2013, while 2,445 schools were reported to have been damaged. Some 2,000 schools are being used as shelters for internally displaced persons. In some areas, children have not attended school in more than 18 months.

    158. Reports indicated that schools continued to be bombed, shelled and raided by
    government forces. On the other hand, several parties to the conflict were
    responsible for using schools for military purposes. There are numerous incidents of
    government forces entering schools and using them either as a temporary base or as
    a detention facility. The Free Syrian Army allegedly used schools in a number of
    areas as bases, makeshift hospitals and, in some instances, ammunition storage and
    detention centres.

    In one example, Free Syrian Army elements in Kafr Zeita, Idlib
    governorate, used two classrooms of the Al Shahid Wahid Al Jusef High School as
    barracks for a number of days while children were attending classes.

  2. Heavy clashes are on -going in the governorate, primarily in the north and eastern areas.
    On June 11, opposition forces seized a military base situated at the northern edges of Morek village in the north of Hama.

    The position is strategically important because it lies on the main road linking the capital to Aleppo. This road is the army's main supply route to Aleppo and to Khan Sheykhoun in the northwestern province of Idleb.

    It also leads to Maaret al-Noman, which the army has been trying to take back from opposition forces since its capture in October. (Daily Star 2013/06/14)

    On June 10, the Government stated that it had regained control of Blyil village and Um Kalak, Khafsen, Khbiat al-Huda and al-Kbaria towns in the northern countryside of Hama. It also claimed to have retaken control of the villages of Masa'ada, Abu Hanaya, Masoud, Salba, and Kleib al-Thor in the eastern countryside of Hama.(SANA 2013/06/10)

    On June 4, the Syrian Army stated it had control of 13 towns and villages in northern rural Hama: Alhamra, Allala, Rabi'a, Rahia, Taybah Elisem, AlSha'fa, Tlaisah, Kahira, Ra's Al Ein, Zoghbe, Qaser Almakhram, Qasr Abo Samra and Um Khozaim. At this date, the FSA still controlled Salba village and a power plant and fuel distributor in eastern rural Hama. East Hama has seen nearly two months of ongoing clashes.(Al Jazeera 2013/06/04,Al Akhbar 2013/06/04)

    1. Eastern Hama is of course the same part Deash (IS) was able to take hold later, pushing almost up to Salamiya by now. I don't think they were on that scene in mid-2014, so this would be "good guy" rebels, al Qaeda, FSA, etc,


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