Chemical Weapons In Douma: What We Know So Far

It’s been nearly two weeks since the alleged chemical attacks on April 7th in Douma, Syria.

Since then, disagreements abound as to the nature of the reported attack, who’s responsible, and if it even happened at all.

As Assad’s alleged chemical weapons use has been a major issue in terms of Western intervention in the Syrian conflict (note this is already the second time the U.S. has bombed Syria for chemical weapons use) and will likely continue to be so in the future, it is incumbent on any honest observer to assess the body evidence on what exactly went down in Douma.

But first, it is important to set the perspective straight.

America, nor any other Western nation, cannot firmly be on any side in the Syrian civil war. The conflict between Assad and his opponents is largely a fight between a Shiite axis, made up of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah on one side, and a loose coalition of Sunni Islamist groups on the other. While there is genuine widespread suffering of innocents going on daily in Syria, we cannot throw ourselves behind any side morally or strategically.

With this in mind, it should go without saying that claims by either side in this war of heinous wrongdoing by the other should be taken with no small amount of skepticism. While it may very well be morally incumbent on the West to limit unnecessary suffering in Syria - even by the use of force - it is not unpatriotic to question the claims about chemical weapons use made by rebel factions that are neither our allies or our ethical brethren.

The doubt surrounding allegations that Assad in fact used chemical weapons has been laid out. This suspicion has been further compounded by recent reports that long-awaited international inspectors that were meant to arrive in Douma have been delayed by unspecified “gunfire” in the area.

Despite all of this, there is a significant body of evidence that strongly points to the deployment of weaponized chemicals.

There are two points to consider:

First is the body of actual reports from medical personnel on the ground that received patients following the alleged attack. Among these reports was a statement by the World Health Organization. The group reported that local health authorities in Douma, with whom it is cooperating, confirmed that on the day of the alleged bombing they treated 500 patients with the symptoms indicating exposure to toxic chemicals. These symptoms included “signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure, and disruption to the central nervous systems of those exposed.”

Similar reports were also delivered by medical professionals on the ground affiliated with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) a U.S.-based non-profit humanitarian group that has maintained a strong presence in Syria throughout the conflict. SAMS documented dozens of cases of patients with symptoms consistent with “exposure to chemical agents.”   

The second issue is the inconsistency in how Syria and Russia have responded to allegations of the attacks. At first Russia and Syria both claimed that there was “no evidence” of a chemical attack in Syria. Later, however, Russian officials stated that the U.K. and the United States “staged” the attack and had used their intelligence agencies to fabricate evidence. Russian media continues to push the idea the West is trying to destroy evidence that would undo their chemical attack narrative, even claiming that the recent coordinated strike was such an attempt.

At the end of the day, the jury is still out on what exactly occurred on April 7th in Douma. As noted above, inspectors have yet to gain access to the area. They may never be able to. Even if they do, the scenes may have been sufficiently tampered with as to prevent any conclusive findings.

In any case, whether or not we can ever get a clearer picture on what happened in Douma, the evidence pointing at chemical weapons use should at least form an important factor in how the West moves forward in their Syria policy.  

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