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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Video and Images of Victims of Suspected Syrian Chemical Attack

As my colleagues Ben Hubbard and Hwaida Saad report from Beirut, antigovernment activists accused the Syrian government of deploying chemical weapons in a string of towns in the rebellious countryside east of the capital, Damascus, on Wednesday, killing hundreds of men, women and children.

Rebels claimed that victims of the attack, shown in dozens of video clips, were killed by chemical weapons, just days after United Nations inspectors arrived in the country to investigate previous attacks said to have involved poison gas. Syria’s government called the accusations “false and untrue” and a spokesman told the state news agency President Bashar al-Assad’s forces “will never use any weapons of mass destruction against its own people, if such weapons exist.”

While the veracity of the visual evidence uploaded to YouTube could not be independently established, chemical weapons experts told The Times that the injuries seen in footage from the region did not appear to be consistent with the effects of a conventional chemical weapon like sarin or mustard gas and that the deaths might have been caused by the use of a weaker chemical agent in a confined space.

Rebels in the town of Jobar uploaded video of a doctor describing his experience treating many of the dead and injured Wednesday, and his description seemed to suggest that the initial assessments of chemical weapons experts may indeed be accurate. The doctor, who did not state his name, said that many of the dead hid in their basements during the attack, unaware that chemical agents are more dense than air and therefore are more concentrated and powerful in enclosed, low-lying spaces.

Opposition activists added English subtitles to a copy of the video with the doctor’s account.

A doctor in Jobar said that many of the dead were found in basements, according to video posted by rebels and loaded to YouTube by a group of antigovernment Syrian translators.

“The negative thing that happened was dealing randomly with the matter and the poor education of citizens,” the doctor said. “The gas loses its effect after half an hour, but unfortunately citizens hid in basements although the gas is heavy and it comes down to basements. This increased the damages and the number of injuries. With the descending of the citizens to the basements, the number of injuries and martyrs increased.”

Video shared online shows graphic images of dozens of dead people, including women and a large number of young children, including babies in diapers, most of whom were said to have suffocated. All of the video has been posted by YouTube accounts affiliated with rebels and activists in towns in the Eastern Ghouta region, including Erbeen, Kafr Batna, Saqba and Jisreen.

One clip posted on a channel affiliated with activists in Kafr Batna showed the bodies of a group of men, women and young children, including a baby in a diaper, all lying on the floor of a room. The cameraman, sobbing, said that the dead were all members of one family. Outside the room, a dimly lighted hallway was also lined with dead bodies.

Video posted on YouTube by Syrian activists affiliated with rebels in Kafr Batna showed several members of one family, including a baby in a diaper, said to have been killed Wednesday.

Another video clip uploaded to the same channel showed a room filled with the bodies of dozens of people killed in what the cameraman called, “a new massacre in Kafr Batna.” The dead included a large number of young children. Many of the bodies are shown with their shirts lifted up to expose bare stomachs and chests, and none appear to have bled or to have sustained bodily injuries, further suggesting that suffocation was the cause of death.

Dozens of dead bodies, including those of children, can be seen in video recorded by opposition activists in Kafr Batna.

Activists in the town of Erbeen uploaded video showing similar images: a room filled with dozens of bodies covered in sheets and blankets, slabs of melting ice balanced on their chests to fend off decomposition. The cameraman said there were more than 40 dead in the room, including a number of young boys whose bodies were in a row.

Video posted online from Erbeen showed dozens of dead bodies lined up in a room.

The Erbeen revels also released video that showed doctors attempting to treat children in a clinic. In the clips, one doctor pressed a manual respirator against the mouth of a boy who appeared to be nonresponsive, while a second doctor prepared to give a second child an injection. The second child appeared to barely respond, and his lips were a deep shade of blue.

Video posted by rebels in Erbeen showed doctors trying to treat two young boys, who appeared to be barely responsive.

Another video from Erbeen, which appears to have been filmed inside the same clinic, showed a group of doctors trying to treat a man, holding him down as his body convulsed. His eyes were closed, and the only sound he made was a series of high-pitched cries.

Video posted by rebels in Erbeen shows doctors treating a man whose body convulses.