To view the original Arabic version of this item, please click here!

85 dead and 1,200 suffocated during chemical attack massacre in Douma city

Editing: Mohamad Alaa |
TranslationEditor: Freda Hocaine |
Translation: Farah Nassif

Jaysh al-Islam had not published any news since Saturday on the progress of their negotiations with Russia, when the evacuation of civilians and wounded Jaysh al-Islam fighters stopped. The negotiations with Russia ended on an agreement to remove the remaining civilians from Douma city (14 kilometers east of Damascus), which is considered the capital of Eastern Ghouta.

The agreement was followed by Russian and Syrian government forces intensively bombing Douma, including the unloading of barrels of toxic gas which killed 85 people and injured 1,200 by suffocation.

Details of the chemical massacre:

On Saturday evening, Apr. 7, 2018, a civilian was killed and hundreds of cases of suffocation were reported as a result of the Syrian forces targeting the city of Douma for the second time with toxic gas.

The death toll rose to 85 after the Syrian government carried out a series of chemical attacks on Douma. The attack has so far injured more than 1,000 civilians with suffocation.

A spokesman for Jaysh al-Islam, Hamza Birekdar, gave an exclusive statement to SMART, detailing that an early count showed more than 500 people had been wounded and suffocated by Syrian government helicopters' unloading of explosive drums containing toxic gas. The Civil Defense noted that the number of injured people was more than 550, including 300 cases of suffocation at a first count. Civil Defense teams were unable to reach many of the wounded civilians due to the continued shelling of Douma.

The injury toll continued to rise to a recorded 1,200 cases of suffocation and dozens of deaths. The Civil Defense did not specify the number due to the intensity of the shelling on the city by Russia and the Syrian government.

A spokesman for the Civil Defense in Rif Dimashq governorate, Siraj Mahmoud, stated during a press conference on Facebook, that the majority of international media reports that are giving numbers for civilians killed and injured, are largely “inaccurate” because there are undocumented cases of entire families who have been killed by suffocation or who are still trapped in basements not yet inspected by the Civil Defense.

Syrian military analyst reveals Russia’ s involvement in the massacre:

Opposition Brigadier General, Ahmad al-Zu’bi, announced that a month ago Syrian government forces worked in cooperation with three Russian officers to prepare a toxic gas similar to the one used during the chemical massacre in Douma city. 

Al-Zou’bi stated that the toxic gas used by the government forces to bomb the residential neighborhoods of Douma is akin to sarin gas. Al-Zou’bi confirmed the gas as a type of nerve gas that causes immediate death by suffocation, and that the injuries it causes far exceed those of chlorine gas. 

Al-Zou’bi revealed that a month ago, Syrian government forces and Russian officers prepared the gas at the center for scientific research in the Jamraya area (8 kilometers northwest of Damascus).  Al- Zou’bi added that on Mar. 25, 2018, Syrian government forces transported the gas to the warehouses of al-Rahiba in Northeastern Damascus, and then to Brigade Base 81 of the Third Division in Eastern Qalamoun. The gas arrived at an al-Damir military airbase, which is less than 30 kilometers away from Douma city. 

Al-Zou’bi added that government forces loaded helicopters with quantities of the gas and that these then took off from al-Damir airbase alongside other helicopters carrying chlorine gas bombs on Saturday. The three helicopters bombed the city of Douma simultaneously. Al-Zou’bi added that this step was taken to hide specific aspects of the crime. Al-Zou’bi did not reveal sources for the information he provided.

Syrian political responses to the massacre and the Islamic Brigades vows for vengeance:

Hours after the massacre, Jaysh al-Islam said that the international community had "given the green light" to Russia and the Syrian regime to commit "crimes" in Douma city.

Hamza Berqdar, the spokesman for Jaysh al-Islam, said that "the negotiations with Russia have not stopped but what they are offering, and are permitted to offer through the silence of the international community, are humiliating clauses to surrender and hand over the region”.

The National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition also called on the permanent members of the Security Council to use force to attack the Syrian regime’s camps and airports, in addition to taking its crimes to trial at the International Criminal Court.

He called on the international community and human rights organizations to "work hard to punish criminals and limit the killing of Syrians of all affiliations."

The Liberation Front of Syria and the Sham Liberation Organization also vowed to "avenge" the victims of the chemical attack.

"We promise God and our people that their revenge will be a religion in our necks and that we will fight this criminal regime and its occupying allies with all we can to cleanse our country," said Syria Liberation in a statement.

They called for the “Liberation of the Sham" from the so-called "Mujahideen" in order to unite the ranks and punish the regime for its ”terrible crime”.

Syrians carried out protest vigils and called upon the international community to intervene.

Syrian organizations demanded "immediate" intervention by the international community to put an end to the use of chemical weapons by the regime in Syria.

"The international community must intervene immediately to stop the tragedy in Douma city, and ensure the protection of human resources and facilities so that it may be able to continue to do it's work effectively,” the Syrian Civil Defense and the Syrian American Medical Association said in a joint statement.

The statement pointed to the need for an immediate cease-fire in Douma city, and the entry of international investigation teams from the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons' (OPCW) fact-finding mission, as well as United Nations investigators to learn further about the specificities of the crime.

In its report, the Syrian Human Rights Network called the 193 countries which form the Chemical Weapons Convention, for "immediate and decisive action against the criminality of the Syrian regime”.

Activists also organized demonstrations and vigils in most cities and towns outside of regime-controlled areas, in solidarity with the victims of Douma, and to demand that the international community intervene and stop the killing of civilians in Syria.

International responses to the massacre:

The spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Heather Nauert, called to hold Bashar al-Assad, along with his government and supporters, as accountable, and demanded that his activities in Syria be brought to an immediate end. It also called upon the international community to intervene so as to prevent further “barbaric” chemical weapons attacks. Nauert added that Russia is responsible for these "brutal" attacks and is also responsible for its targeting of civilians and for suffocating the weakest in Syrian society by using chemical weapons, all as a result of its "firm" support of the Syrian government.

The U.S. President Donald Trump also called the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad an "animal”, saying that he will pay a “big price” for the chemical attack.

Trump said on his Twitter account, "If President Obama had crossed his stated 'Red Line In The Sand', the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!" A U.S. national security official didn’t exclude the likelihood of U.S. missile strike against the Syrian government for its chemical attack.

The European Union accused the Syrian government of committing the chemical attack, and called for an immediate international response. Pope Francis of the Vatican also condemned the massacre. He added that the use of weapons that are considered as a “means of extermination” cannot be justified.

The British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson called for urgent investigation into the attack. The international community also called for those using chemical weapons to be held accountable for their actions.

The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, called for an emergency Security Council meeting to discuss the chemical attack. Jean Yves Le Drian also noted that French President, Emmanuel Macron, warned that France may launch a unilateral attack against the Syrian government if chemical weapons are being used in Syria. He also said that the attack on Douma was a “grave breach of international humanitarian law” according to Reuters.

The European Union accused the Syrian government of committing the chemical attack, and called for an immediate international response.

Regional and Arab responses:

The Saudi Foreign Ministry called upon the international community to protect civilians in Syria. It expressed “its deep concern and condemnation” of the chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians, including women and children.

Qatar called for an immediate international investigation into the attack. The Qatar Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Qatar strongly condemns the attack, and expresses its "deep shock at the horror of this crime which shook the conscience of humanity."

Moreover, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Bakr Bozdaq, accused the Syrian government of committing the chemical attack, and called upon the international community to actively respond.

Russia and Iran deny the Syrian government’s involvement in the massacre. They also denied that the Syrian government forces targeted Douma city using chemical weapons, and considered all reports as “fabricated”. The political and military analyst, Brigadier General Assad Zu’bi, revealed that a month ago Syrian government forces worked in cooperation with three Russian officers to prepare a toxic gas similar to the one used in the chemical massacre in Douma city. 

The Russian news channel Russia Today reported the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying, "The rumors on the use of chemical weapons in Douma aim to protect the terrorists”, and that any military intervention against the Syrian government would have “serious consequences”.

Bahram Qassemi, the spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, stated that the timing of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in Douma was "illogical”, in light of the latter's significant recent advances in the area.

The United Nations believes that the current situation does not allow an investigation into the massacre:

Antonio Guterres, the secretary general for the United Nations, stated that the UN is not in a position to verify the reports of the chemical attack in the city of Douma. Guterres said that any chemical attack requires a thorough investigation and that if a chemical attack is proven, it is "hateful."

In a statement posted on the official website of the UN, Guterres expressed concern about the renewed violence in the city of Douma over the last two days, following a period of relative calm. Guterres noted that there are reports of continuous airstrikes and bombings, as well as the killing of civilians, destruction of infrastructure, and targeting of medical facilities in the city.

On Sunday, the British mission to the United Nations called for an immediate Security Council meeting to be held on Monday in order to discuss the attack.

The  Wheel of Displacement Returns to Walk:

The whole world is condemning the massacre, and the activists in exile and the media are discussing how Trump described the Syrian government President Bashar al-Assad as an “animal”. In the meantime, the official Syrian government news agency, SANA, quoted an official source aas saying that an agreement has been reached to evacuate all "hostages" from Douma, in return for the exit of all Jaysh al-Islam fighters to the city of Jarablus within 48 hours.

Local activists told SMART that more than a hundred buses arrived near the city of Douma from the al-Wafidin camp crossing. The activists added that rumor is that an evacuation agreement has been reached and will be carried out on Monday, Apr. 9, 2018. The deal includes the Jaysh al-Islam's exit to Idlib, while civilians may go to Jarabulus in Aleppo if they wish to do so.

According to the local committee in the besieged city of Douma, the agreement includes the evacuation of Jaysh al-Islam members with their families and all civilians who wish to leave, in towards Northern Syria. Those who want to remain can do so and rest assured that they will not face persecution or be enlisted to military service for six months.

The Russian military police intervened as a guarantor for the non-entry of the Syrian security forces in to Douma. Students can also return to their universities after the situation is settled. A crossing will open for commercial movement, and a committee from Rif Dimashq will enter to resolve all civil issues in coordination with the local committee formed in the city of Douma.