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Syria  - 
 
#Syria  - We have a couple of threads on the Ein Tarma "chemical attack" that occurred around 1amGMT, so going to merge them here and add what we know via +James Miller and +Iain Martin.  I stress that the details of this attack are as yet unverified, and the videos are highly distressing.

There have been allegations of a chemical attack in Ein Tarma (location: 33.513955,36.347015), in the eastern Ghouta region of #Damascus   , with dozens of people reported killed in the attack. High estimates of around 635 via activists (unconfirmed): https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=722016467825492&set=a.221856221174855.74557.217848338242310&type=1

Videos showing the aftermath of the attack have emerged from several local and usually reliable LCC sources from surrounding districts just a few kilometres from Ein Tarma, including:

Kafr Batna Coordination Committee - http://www.youtube.com/user/syriafredoom?feature=watch
Saqba Local Coordination Committee - https://www.youtube.com/user/SaqbaRevo0/videos
Jisreen Coordination Committee - https://www.youtube.com/user/jsreenalhura/videos
Coordinating Erbeen - http://www.youtube.com/user/mrerbeen2011

We also have video from a source previously unfamiliar to Storyful: https://www.youtube.com/user/MajlesRifDimashq/videos

Via +James Miller - "[East Ghouta] is an area with strong opposition leanings, and is a major supply route to the front lines in the fighting in east Damascus. Assad's forces in both Mt Qassioun and in the Mezzeh airport have this area very zeroed in for rocket (typically Grads) and artillery strikes...In the video showing the baby (below), a doctor and I have been reviewing the footage. She thinks that this looks like the child is in cholinergic crisis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cholinergic_crisis [possible sarin symptom]"

Any help on this appreciated, particularly more information on the symptoms seen in the dozens of videos above. A Syrian subreddit is collecting more videos here: http://www.reddit.com/r/syriancivilwar/comments/1kry33/live_thread_stream_of_videos_coming_out_of/

+Brown Moses +Peter Bouckaert +Felim McMahon +Eoghan mac Suibhne +Malachy Browne +Christoph Koettl 
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Quick geographic analysis: all three areas where CWs were reportedly used are adjacent: Jobar, Zamalka, Ein Tarma. Casualties brought to surrounding areas, including Kafr Batna. Activists posting video were previously associated with Kafr Batna, Saqba, Jisreen, Erbeen. These areas all within three-miles of each other. 
 
Hi there. Re the line used by us, +BBC News , quoted above by +Felim McMahon . It's a fairly standard caveat we use to signal that although we're fairly confident the footage is what it purports to be, we can't directly contact the person who filmed it, nor 100% verify it independently of speaking to the originator. However, sometimes other checks - including language checks by Arabic speakers and cross-referencing with producers and correspondents with experience on this story - take us to a point where we're happy to use it in our output, but with this caveat. Hope that helps.
 
That's brilliant Chris. Thanks so much. We're confident with the pattern of sharing and the geography here too. I've outlined why above.  
 
Thanks Felim, have passed that on. If there's anything useful we can add, I'll come back in.
 
LIVE presser from Syrian National Coalition here: etilafpress - translation would be great.
 
LCC now says 1360 dead! They are extremely conservative with their numbers, and use verification methods to ensure that their people have documented the casualties. In covering this nearly every day since day 1, I have never seen them freak out like this. My sources on the ground are absolutely panicked as well. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=722250221135450&l=b0ae0f9ecf

Another activist group has reportedly documented 400 deaths. More helpful, they also have a map of the incidents, and dozens of videos of bodies. We could start counting them... http://t.co/wumOOHZtnb
 
Thanks James. Please keep us posted on any info relating to casualty figures. We are careful about alerting but monitor constantly.
 
This looks same as ones reportedly used in alleged Adra CW attack. We'll have to be super careful on replication of images but, as we were discussing the other night, a familiar design.  +Brown Moses +James Miller 
 
I should note that some experts I've talked to don't see the evidence of sarin, or CS. But there are a lot of bodies. The NYT has a good write up as well. This was a largescale, sophisticated, and deadly operation. We need journalists or UN experts to get blood, tissue, clothing, and other physical samples in order to really know what this is and why it doesn't match out current understanding of mass chemical attacks http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/22/world/middleeast/syria.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimesworld&_r=1&
 
Thanks James. Wonder if the inspection team will make it out of the Dama Rose?   
 
The UN knows about this. I'm pulling every string I have to get someone there. I just don't have a lot of strings...
 
I agree, that is why I am half skeptical at AFP stuff at times.
 
+Gibran Ashraf Yup. At least they got right country/area. The info I've seen suggests two possible strike zones - one on the border of Ein Tarma and Zamalka here 33.519644,36.352551; and the other on Jobar (not defined). 
 
Weiss is communicating with Damascus now, FYI.

Also, a discrepancy exists as to whether there were 3 gas attacks or 4. Some sources on the ground are saying 4. I know you reported 3 earlier. I'm trying to sort that, it may just be that the sites are close together. I'll let you know if I have more to add to this.
 
Hi James, I have taken another look at the info from the local coordinating committee pages. I think there is a chance that we are talking about one attack here, centred on Zaniya, between Ein Tarma and Zamalka. http://storyful.com/stories/62835
 
There is a lot of shaky "information" swirling right now:

1. O'Bagy exaggerated 3 hours ago when she said "major ground offensive" underway in Damascus suburbs. She has pulled that back to say there are troops moving in preparation for an offensive --- which makes sense if they have to wait for CW gas to disperse.

2. Brown Moses photograph of a claimed home-made munition to deliver CW is very suspect --- the source appears to be an activist who posted a photo which may or may not have anything to do with attack site. And of course there are multiple sites.

Whether by coincidence or design, the Russians are seizing on "home-made" to claim evidence that the CW rocket was fired from an opposition-controlled area --- just like Syrian regime/Russia claimed over Khan al-Assal on March 19.
 
Liz didn't exaggerate. I just spoke to her about an hour ago. It's happening. My sources say it too, as do Weiss's, which are separate convos. FSA source said an hour ago that the offensive is multitudes larger than typical fighting in the area, but that the forces made little progress because the FSA reinforced the front. The regime has been throwing everything it has at this area for weeks. Today they threw a lot more at it and it still didn't budge.
 
Is anyone exploring the possibility - insinuated by various media incl. NYT - that "non-lethal/incapacitating" chemical agents (permissable for law enforcement purposes according to the Chemical Weapons Convention, but not in warfare) could have been used to such deadly effect?
 
This is a theory that's been forth by several experts, and several others have dismissed it outright. Yet others suggest that what we're seeing is a cocktail of several elements, and CS might be part of that.

But I've reported on Bahrain for almost as long as I've reported on Syria. In Bahrain, law enforcement seems to have gone out of its way to get the most potent non-lethal agents it could, and to devastating affect. CS is often deadly. But I've literally seen entire streets in Bahrain filled with wall-to-wall teargas and nobody dies. To kill this many people with a similar agent is, in my opinion, unfathomable. 
 
Thanks, James. From what the Times wrote it appears that a lot of people also fled into enclosed basements and shelters which would exasperate the effects of gas. Though non-lethal/incapacitating chemical weapons are often conflated with riot control agents, the former needn't be CS and could be any number of other chemicals not classified as lethal. The Convention doesn't define what those agents are, as far as I understand. They could be a cocktail and not fall under lethal CW classification, though decidedly lethal.

According to the Faculty of American Scientists: "An incapacitating agent that is exceptionally safe by pharmacological standards [...] delivered under ideal conditions to a uniformly healthy population, 9% of victims would die when the goal is to incapacitate almost everyone (99%) in a particular place (often an enclosed space), as in hostage rescue or urban military operations."

If you can point me toward experts dismissing it outright, I'd be much obliged as I'm mulling the issue on a blog post here, which I will be updating:
http://exitleftproject.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/on-the-deadliness-of-non-lethal-toxins-the-banality-of-red-lines/
 
Hi Emily, I'll pass this along. I see what you're saying about the difference between "non-lethal" and CS. So let me clarify what I wrote by saying that I was talking specifically about CS (which also has a clear and distinct odor which was not reported). I will pass your article along and see if anyone has comment.

People did not flee indoors because of the gas. The witnesses I've spoken to are consistent in saying that many fled below ground or indoors because of the conventional weaponry (rockets, we believe, likely Grads) that preceded the gas. Kids, in particular, often sleep underground these days. Also, almost everyone in Damascus sleeps with windows open, as AC is rare and it's really hot.

In most famous incidents of non-lethal gas leading to casualties, people were exposed while inside, or were trapped inside and could not exit. It should be noted that there are reports that suggest that many of the victims, especially the children, died while in bed. While non-lethal gas can be fatal, I've never heard of the victims dying this quickly, often while unaware that they are under attack. Victims in Bahrain, for instance, were often painfully aware that they were under attack, but they were either trapped in their homes, or their exposure levels were already too high for their bodies to recover. But they didn't die in their sleep.

I think it's clear that this substance was not something that can be easily identified, and has the hallmarks of several weapons while lacking hallmarks of most of them. But I'm extremely weary of the debate as to whether something is a chemical weapon. Is it a chemical? Well, it wasn't a bomb or a bullet, but some sort of compound that when breathed became lethal in many cases, so yes. Did it kill hundreds or thousands? Yes it did. Then it was a chemical weapon.  
 
Thanks for clarifying, James. From everything I've read, the distinction between lethal and non-lethal chemical weapons is highly problematic when it comes to intended or unintended lethality (particularly in confined areas and when inhaled by the young, elderly or malnourished.)

It seems clear that a chemical agent was used in E. Ghouta. The distinction matters primarily in relation to the elusive "red line" and  how the term "chemical weapon" is used by governments and international treaties, which relates to the definitions put forth in the Convention.

Chlorine, for example, which was what residents in Khan al-Assad said they had smelled after a chemical attack there, is not prohibited by the CWC, I believe. What I'm interested in (and horrified by) is the idea that highly deadly attacks using chemicals can be carried out without constituting chemical weapons use according to the treaty.

This, by the way, is from a paper published in June 2013 by Harvard-Sussex, regarding the earlier allegations of CW use in Syria:

"If the allegations are true, Syria is engaged in a form of chemical warfare whose purpose and therefore methods (small scale, pinpoint targeting, disabling) are at variance with concepts underpinning the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. It would thus call into question the continuing fitness for purpose of certain of the treaty’s provisions, specifically those set by the quantitative possession, declaration and reporting thresholds that were derived from Cold War notions of ‘militarily significant’ quantities. The CWC was never intended solely as a suppressant of ‘weapons of mass destruction’, whatever the popular view of it may now have become."

I will post this open newsroom thread as an  update in the post.
 
This is an interesting and important question. Thanks +Emily Dische-Becker and +James Miller. Video showed possible blood samples being taken in Douma. This is a tough question. Hopefully progress on injury & mortality figures + geography will shed light.
 
Hopefully answers do come soon. 

From the Chemical Weapons Convention:

 "Toxic Chemical" means:
Any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals. This includes all such chemicals, regardless of their origin or of their method of production, and regardless of whether they are produced in facilities, in munitions or elsewhere....

...

5. Each State Party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.

http://www.opcw.org/chemical-weapons-convention/articles/article-ii-definitions-and-criteria/
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