Strong condemnation of chemical warfare in Syria

Reports suggest thousands of civilians – mostly women and children – died as a result of chemical weapons unleashed by the Assad regime.

By Khabar South Asia

August 29, 2013
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Allegations that the Assad regime in Syria carried out deadly chemical attacks against civilians have prompted strong condemnation across Asia.

  • A Syrian couple mourns in front of bodies wrapped in shrouds following an alleged toxic gas attack by pro-Assad forces in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21st. The opposition says thousands, mostly women and children, died in a succession of chemical attacks launched by the regime. [AFP Photo/Shaam News]

    A Syrian couple mourns in front of bodies wrapped in shrouds following an alleged toxic gas attack by pro-Assad forces in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21st. The opposition says thousands, mostly women and children, died in a succession of chemical attacks launched by the regime. [AFP Photo/Shaam News]

Syrian rebels say as many as 1,302 died in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, when the regime forces used rockets to launch chemical weapons during the early hours of August 21st. Seventy per cent of the victims were women and children, according to the opposition. The regime has denied that it carried out such an attack.

Mohammad al-Baik, a local activist in Ghouta, told the news portal al-Shorfa that he witnessed patients at field hospitals suffering convulsions, swelling, blindness, nausea and other symptoms consistent with chemical weapons use. "What affected me the most was the sight of the wounded children and the screams of mothers who lost family members," al-Baik said.

Children are especially vulnerable to chemical weapons because their bodies and immune systems are weaker compared to most adults, medical experts say.

International condemnation

In Malaysia, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman expressed his country's deep concern about the reports, saying such an attack would constitute a clear violation of international law. The perpetrators, he said, should be held accountable.

"Malaysia calls upon those responsible for such irresponsible and inhuman acts to be brought to justice," the state news agency Bernama quoted him as saying.

Similar condemnation came from Indonesia, whose foreign minister urged the international community to prevent the situation in Syria from deteriorating further.

"The international community must not let the situation get worse in Syria," Marty Natalegawa said in a press statement, according to The Jakarta Globe. "If [the Assad regime] has actually used chemical weapons, it marks the lowest point in the conflict.

Indonesia regards the use of chemical weapons as a crime against humanity, Marty said. "We must support the UN's investigation over the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. The international community must make sure that perpetrators of such inhumane acts are punished accordingly," Indonesian press sources quoted him as saying.

In India, the foreign ministry issued a statement reiterating the country's opposition to the use of chemical weapons. It said India has "consistently supported the complete destruction and elimination of chemical weapons".

The allegations about Syria are "a matter of grave concern", the statement said. "We stress that the international legal norm against the use of chemical weapons anywhere and by anyone must not be breached."

Although the Bangladesh foreign ministry has not yet issued an official statement, the reports triggered a strong reaction from ordinary citizens.

"Using chemical weapons is not acceptable under any circumstances. This type of attack is tantamount to a heinous crime against humanity,” Kazi Sajidul Haque, a blogger, told Khabar South Asia.

No one with the sense of humanity could accept such brutality inflicted on people anywhere on earth, he added.

Nibirh Jawad, a student of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, likewise described chemical weapons as a "threat to human civilization".

"Chemical weapons are a threat to human civilization. I strongly condemn such attacks on the Syrian people, though I am not sure who is behind the attack," he told Khabar. All conscious people irrespective of their faith and nationalities should stand united against chemical weapons, he added.

Not a unique incident

Syrian activists say the August 21st attacks were not the only instance of chemical warfare being waged by the Assad regime. In a Saturday report, the Foundation for Defence of Syrian Human Rights claimed the regime used chemical weapons 28 times between July 13th and August 21st.

There were 23 incidents in and around Damascus, most recently the attack in Eastern and Western Ghouta, which killed a total of 1,845 and injured 9,924, it said.

The report pointed to "the use of fighter jets, helicopters, rocket launchers and artillery in the attacks, 85% of which involved sarin gas", and pointed to "clear indications of the use of ammonia and CS3 in the recent attack on Ghouta".

According to medical experts, chemicals such as sarin gas have a quick and devastating effect on victims.

"Toxic gas injuries, particularly sarin gas injuries, vary from one case to another depending on the extent of exposure and condition, and the resistance and age of the injured person's body," said Dr. Magdy Abdel Nour, a neurologist at Qasr al-Aini Hospital in Cairo.

"Sarin gas is stored as a colourless and tasteless liquid, and spreads quickly in the air in the event of an explosion," he said. "Injury by it is quick because it is absorbed through pores in the skin and the respiratory system. Its effect remains on the body for a long time especially in the nervous system, and results in instant death if it enters the lungs."

Symptoms of injury include eyesight failure, full-body convulsions and loss of control, on top of sweating, diarrhoea, a semi-coma and in some cases a coma, he said.

Resulting severe muscle cramps may also cause death, Abel Nour said.

"Children's immune systems are weaker than those of adults, so they are more vulnerable to injury, particularly since inhaling half a milligram of sarin is enough to kill an adult," he said.

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