An alleged chemical weapons attack, attributed to both the Syrian regime and Russia, reportedly killed between 42 and 100 civilians and wounded up to 1,200 others in the city of Douma, Damascus governorate, on April 7th, 2018, according to local sources.
Enab Baladi wrote that “after a ten-day truce in the city of Douma, the last opposition stronghold in Eastern Ghouta, Assad’s forces and their ally Russia resumed bombing the city with warplanes, using poison gas again, amid reports that negotiations over the fate of the city had reached a dead end.”
In an initial report, Shaam News Network said: “Assad and Russia targeted residential areas in the city of Douma in the eastern Gouta with high-toxic toxic chemical weapons. The city was hit by rockets and explosive barrels containing these materials, killing 75 martyrs and causing more than 1,000 cases of suffocation”.
However, a second report from Shaam pointed only to the regime, claiming that “Assad’s forces used containing chemical gas believed to be sarin on a number of cellars and shelters, resulting in the martyrdom of entire families and injuring more than 1,200 people suffering from suffocation”.
Douma Revolution initially reported 700 cases of suffocation. In a later post, the source reported “the death of more than 100 martyrs and the wounding of at least 1000 civilians until now”.
SyriaTV reported on a joint statement by the Syrian Civil Defense and the Syrian American Medical Association (SAMS), which stated that “at 7:45 pm on Saturday evening, after the regime forces launched massive attacks on the city’s neighbourhoods, more than 500 emergency cases arrived at the medical points, most of them women and children who suffered symptoms of ‘respiratory slip, central cyanosis, frothy emission from the mouth and the emission of an odor. They smelled like chlorine and had a corneal burn.'”
The injured civilians reportedly suffered from a slow heart rate, rough bronchial purrs and wheezing. Medical teams treated the injured with “free moist oxygen” and bronchodilators. The statement also stated that “while the injuries were exacerbated in several cases, four of them were placed on the automatic ventilation system for children, and the injury resulted in the death of 6 cases, one of whom was a woman who was observed to have convulsions and pinpoint pupils.”
According to the statement, Civil Defence teams reported that more than 42 deaths with the same symptoms occured in civilian homes. SCD volunteers were unable to retrieve the victims’ bodies due to a lack of protective suits and the severity of the smell.
The Syrian Violations Documentation Center of Syria reported that prior to the chemical attack, around 12:00 at noon, alleged Syrian warplanes targeted the Red Crescent center in Douma with guided missiles and barrel bombs, which put the center and remaining ambulances out of service completely. Then, according to the VDC’s explanation of events, the warplanes dropped barrel bombs on the city, “which caused obstruction of the movement of civil defence vehicles and rescue teams that took over the task of treating the injured after all ambulances in the city went out of service.”
According to the VDC, civilians were forced to go out to basements and take cover. The next bombing, which “was heavily suspected of using highly concentrated toxic gases as well as chlorine”, immediately killed 42 civilians.
A volunteer with the Syrian Civil Defence told the VDC: “When the chemical attacks began, the smell of chlorine was reaching downtown Douma. We could not immediately determine the location of the chlorine missile. The bodies of the dead on the streets and the wounded were bleeding to death, without the medical personnel being able to intervene due to their scarcity and the very large volume of cases. Later, we discovered the bodies that had suffocated due to toxic gases. They were in a closed place sheltering from the barrel bombs, which may have caused their rapid death as no one heard their screams. It seems that some of them were trying to reach an open location because we found their bodies on the stairs. ”
Around 7:30 PM, alleged Syrian warplanes targeted the ‘Martyrs Square’ near the Numan Mosque with missiles suspected of being loaded with toxic gas, reported the VDC. A doctor told the VDC that the symptoms he observed on patients “are not similar to the symptoms of chlorine. Chlorine alone cannot cause such symptoms because chlorine suffocates but does not disrupt nerves. There were symptoms of organophosphorus compounds of which sarin gas is considered. But there was also the smell of chlorine everywhere. ”
Based on the available evidence, the VDC concluded that “this attack in this sequence was programmed and deliberately inflicted as much damage as possible to the civilian population. By isolating them from the rapid arrival of rescue and ambulance teams, and then forcing them to seek refuge in a closed place to take shelter from the violent bombing of barrel bombs. After that, their closed places of residence were bombed with poison gas.”
On June 25th, 2018, the New York Times Visual Investigation’s team published their investigation into the incident, titled “How Bashar al-Assad Gassed His Own People”. The investigation focused on one building where a chemical weapon was dropped. Based on the visual evidence, the investigators counted 34 victims in the building, spread across two floors.
According to the investigation, the bomb, loaded with chlorine, was dropped from the sky by regime helicopters. Chemical weapon experts told NYT investigators that the symptoms of the victims – a frothy emission from the mouth and corneal burn – indicated the use of chlorine gas. A US official reportedly told the New York Times that chlorine and sarin were found in the victim’s blood tests. According to the video, when civilians smell chlorine, they try to find a higher location and pour water over themselves. According to the investigators, this explains why many of the victims in the Douma attack were found on staircases and water sources.
Flight spotters reportedly saw the helicopters leave Dumayr Air Base between 7:16 and 7:23 PM in the direction of Douma and circling around Douma between 7:26 and 7:38 PM, around the time of the attack, according to NYT.
In total, local sources identified the names of 36 victims, among which at least eight children.
Nearly all sources blamed the Syrian regime for the chemical attack, but some sources mentioned Russia as well. Hence, this event is graded as contested.
The incident occured between 7:30 pm and 7:45 pm local time.