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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

French Reporters Witnessed Previous Chemical Attacks on Syrian Rebels

In light of claims that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launched deadly chemical attacks on rebel-held areas of the Damascus suburbs on Wednesday, it is worth noting that journalists for the French newspaper Le Monde reported in May that they had witnessed repeated chemical attacks on rebel forces in that same region.

The journalists, who “spent two months clandestinely in the Damascus area alongside Syrian rebels,” first reported their findings in a news article illustrated with video, which was later translated into English by Le Monde.fr.

A video report on chemical warfare in the Damascus suburbs published in May by Le Monde.

The article, by Jean-Philippe Rémy, began:

A chemical attack on the Jobar front, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, doesn’t look like anything much at first. It’s not spectacular. Above all, it’s not detectable. And that’s the aim: by the time the rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army who have penetrated furthest into Damascus understand that they’ve been exposed to chemical products by government forces, it’s too late. No matter which type of gas is used, it has already produced its effects, only a few hundred meters from residential areas of the Syrian capital.

At first, there is only a little sound, a metallic ping, almost a click. And in the confusion of daily combat in Jobar’s Bahra 1 sector, this sound didn’t catch the attention of the fighters of the Tahrir al-Sham (‘Liberation of Syria’) Brigade. ‘We thought it was a mortar that didn’t explode, and no one really paid attention to it,’ said Omar Haidar, chief of operations of the brigade, which holds this forward position less than 500 meters from Abbasid Square.

Searching for words to describe the incongruous sound, he said it was like ‘a Pepsi can that falls to the ground.’ No odor, no smoke, not even a whistle to indicate the release of a toxic gas. And then the symptoms appear. The men cough violently. Their eyes burn, their pupils shrink, their vision blurs. Soon they experience difficulty breathing, sometimes in the extreme; they begin to vomit or lose consciousness. The fighters worst affected need to be evacuated before they suffocate.

Reporters from Le Monde witnessed this on several days in a row in this district, on the outskirts of Damascus, which the rebels entered in January.