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Human Rights Watch: Syrian regime behind chemical attack

Published: Updated:

It is likely that Syrian government forces were responsible for the deadly chemical weapons attack last month which left over 1,000 people dead, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

A 22-page report issued by the U.S.-based human rights watchdog concluded that available evidence “strongly suggests” that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military carried out the attack.

Human Rights Watch published comments after analyzing witness accounts of attacks in Ghouta on August 21, as well as information on the likely source of the attacks, physical debris from weapons used, and the victims’ medical symptoms.

“Rocket debris and symptoms of the victims from the August 21 attacks on Ghouta provide telltale evidence about the weapon systems used,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.
“This evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government troops launched rockets carrying chemical warheads into the Damascus suburbs that terrible morning.”

Methods of communication

According to the report, Human Rights Watch did not have physical access to Eastern and Western Ghouta so conducted Skype conversations to gather evidence.

“Without physical access to Eastern and Western Ghouta, Human Rights Watch interviewed by Skype from August 22 to September 6 more than 10 witnesses and survivors of the August 21 attacks, and 3 doctors who responded to the attacks. Human Rights Watch also reviewed available video and photo footage from the scene of the attacks, including high-resolution images obtained directly from a source who photographed and measured the rocket components found in the Eastern Ghouta attack, and conducted a detailed analysis of the weapon remnants captured in such footage.”

Personal accounts

A member of the Zamalka media center told Human Rights Watch of his experience.

“On August 21, I was in the media office when around 2 to 3 a.m. my friends called to say that rockets had hit Zamalka. When I heard that, I went to the field hospital in al-Mazraat neighborhood… After around 30 minutes rockets hit the al-Mazraat area. When the explosion hit I heard a very low sound, it was like the sound of a helicopter buzzing, and not the sound of explosion… I went outside the field hospital and started running towards the explosion site. I didn’t reach the explosions site because I saw injured people on the ground and people screaming and running in all directions… I remember I went into one house and saw a man with his wife on the ground. The house was not destroyed. It was not where the rocket fell or had an impact but they were dead on the ground. After around 40 minutes rescuing people, I started feeling my body aching. I was feeling weak and unable to move. Then my eyes started hurting me and headache started. There was no smoke but there was a smell... I told my friend that I have to go to the hospital. He put me in a car and drove away… I remember very well when we left al-Mazraat in my friend’s car, I saw a dog crossing the street. I shouted to my friend to be careful not to hit him but before I finished my sentence the dog by itself collapsed on the ground.”

Human Rights Watch said the nerve agent sarin was most likely used in the attack.

The rights group also said two kinds of rockets appeared to have been used; a 330 mm rocket with a warhead designed to carry a large payload of liquid chemical agent, and a smaller 140 mm rocket capable of carrying a warhead packed with 2.2 kilograms of sarin.

(With AFP)