Rustom Ghazali, Syria's former Military Intelligence Chief in Lebanon, has died in Damascus

The Daily Star (Lebanon) published an interesting compilation, here, on the reports of the cause of Rustom Ghazali’s death, announced this morning.

The Daily Star noted that “reports conflicted over his cause of death, and when and where he died. The news comes nearly two months after he was reported to have been badly beaten by Syrian security forces”.

In 2002, Ghazali became head of Syrian Military Intelligence, replacing General Ghazi Kanaan [who is said to have committed suicide, an explanation at odds with the circumstances, including the number of shots to his head].

As The Daily Star put it, “Ghazaleh succeeded Ghazi Kanaan as head of military intelligence in Lebanon in 2002 during Syria’s tutelage over Lebanon, which lasted until Damascus pulled its troops from the country in 2005. It is widely speculated that he was one of the men who orchestrated the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Damascus denies any involvement in the 2005 killing”.

In 2012, The Daily Star wrote today, “Ghazaleh was appointed the chief of Syria’s infamous political security branch”.

According to an AFP report cited by The Daily Star, a “family source” said that Ghazaleh “had been fired after getting into a fight with another Syrian official in early March”.

Comments from Twitter —

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More celebrity UN Goodwill Ambassador news – Angelina Jolie addresses UNSC on Syria

It is completely incongruous for UN Goodwill Ambassadors to address the UN Security Council on matters of substance relating to some of the worst and most intractable conflicts in the world.

This ridiculous scheme was thought up by some of the former heads of the UN Department for Public Information, because they argued this is the only way to get media+ world attention — and enthusiastically embraced approved by some former UN Secretaries General [as well as by the current UNSG] and UN heads of agencies…who prioritize fund-raising over political [and therefore controversial] work.

Angelina Jolie arrives to address the UNSC on Syria war
Angelina Jolie arrives to address the UNSC on its failure to end Syria war

In a continuation of this recent incongruous tradition, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie has just been given the floor to address the UNSC on Syria, and used the word “We” when speaking of the UN failures there…

AFP reported that “Actress Angelina Jolie on Friday criticized the UN Security Council’s failure to end the war in Syria, as she appealed for urgent help for the growing ranks of Syrian refugees…’The purpose of the UN is to prevent and end conflict, to bring countries together, to find diplomatic solutions and to save lives’, said Jolie, dressed in a white blazer. ‘We failed to do this in Syria’…The crisis is made worse by division and indecision within the international community preventing the Security Council from fulfilling its responsibilities…If we cannot end the conflict, we have an inescapable moral duty to help refugees and provide legal avenues to safety”, Jolie said. The actress spoke of a “sea of excluded humanity”, and added: “The crisis in Syria illustrates that our inability to find diplomatic solutions causes mass displacement, traps millions of people in exile, statelessness and displacement”…
This APF report was published by Lebanon’s The Daily Star, here.

“We” = meaning, the UN Security Council + Angelina Jolie?

It takes Angelina Jolie to remind the 15 members of the UN Security Council what is the purpose of the UN?

Continue reading “More celebrity UN Goodwill Ambassador news – Angelina Jolie addresses UNSC on Syria”

UN-mandated inspectors back in Syria after Assad government declaration of chemical weapons materials + UN Security Council resolution

A UN Security Council-mandated team of Chemical Weapons [CW] inspectors has been back on the ground in Syria for a second time, investigating several more reported CW attacks [including three that reported occurred after the large August 21 attack in Ghouta].

The BBC has produced a graphic to show the sites of the second investigations.  The BBC also reported here, that the UN CW team, “led by Ake Sellstrom, arrived in Syria for its second visit on 25 September and hopes to finish its work by Monday 30 September”.
The UN CW team completed a six-day mission on 1 October, the UN reported here. They are reportedly aiming at producing a “comprehensive” report by the end of October.

[n.b. – This is not a complete or exhaustive indication of reported CW attacks — there were more; see our earlier Chronology, in previous posts below]:

Sites of reported CW attacks being investigated by UN-mandated inspectors
Sites of reported CW attacks being investigated by UN-mandated inspectors

 

This graphic was Tweeted by Fred Abrahams @fredabrahams – “Map of 7 alleged chemical weapons attacks in #Syria being investigated now by UN team, from BBC.  pic.twitter.com/b9Qk78I8tA” — via @DanKaszeta

Three attacks near Aleppo in North:

19 March Khan al-Assal [this is the first CW attack in Syria + the Syrian Government formally requested a UN investigation]
13 April Sheikh Maqsoud
29 April Saraqeb

Three attacks near Damascus in south of this graphic [after the 21 August attack on Ghouta — attacks on all three days were mentioned by Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari in a “stake-out” outside the UN Security Council, filmed by UN TV and posted on Youtube here; he blamed these attacks on “terrorists” = rebels]:

22 August Bahhariya
24 August Jobar
25 August Ashrafieh Sahnaya

Trying to figure how UNSG BAN selected the 6 additional sites [I do not see 7 — unless, as the BBC report seems to say, the UN team will be taking a second look at, or doing a follow-up on, the large August 21 CW attacks in Ghouta]:

1st, Khan al-Assal on 19 March 2013, was requested months ago by Syria.  The UNSG promised to investigate before August 21 [in fact, that’s why the  UN CW team was in Syria when the 21 August attack took place].

After the August 21 CW attacks on Ghouta, Syria’s Ambassador Bashar al-Assad demanded UN inspection of 3 post-August 21 attacks near Damascus [rebel accidents handling CW/precursors in tunnels etc] on 22, 24 and 25 August This can be see on Youtube here — though Ambassador Jaafari seemed to give a different order of dates and places from those shown in the graphic above, supposedly based on UN information.

Syria’s Amb al-Jaafari also complained [in May] about the April 29th attack in Saraqeb; it was also cited by a defector as well as in French + UK declassified reports released at the end of August.

The April 13th attack in Sheikh Maksood/Maqsoud was cited in French + UK reports published after the Aug 21 attacks, + cited by a US NatSec Adviser [in a high-confidence assessment] and it appears to be the only one on the list that was not requested by the Syrian Government…

One article, posted here, mentions another attack on 19 March, in Otaibah near Damascus [close to the Damascus International Airport] which is NOT, as the article points out, on the UN CW team’s list…

On 27 September, the UN Security Council in New York unanimously adopted resolution 2118 — which endorses a decision taken the same day by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Hague, containing special procedures for the expeditious and verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons — and the UNSC resolution’s text is contained in the UN Press Release posted here

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that the UNSC resolution also contains “requirements for all countries, especially Syria’s neighbours, which must report on moves by non-State actors to secure chemical weapons”…

The resolution followed a Syrian decision to surrender its CW and accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention — and a subsequent Syrian declaration of its Chemical Weapons stockpiles and precursors and equipment.”

UPDATE: On 3 October, the disarmament inspectors reported from Damascus that they felt they had made initial progress:
“The joint OPCW-UN team mandated to assist Syria with the elimination of its chemical weapons programme has made encouraging initial progress, following the first working day of meetings with the Syrian authorities. Documents handed over yesterday by the Syrian Government look promising, according to team members, but further analysis, particularly of technical diagrams, will be necessary and some more questions remain to be answered. The team hopes to begin onsite inspections and the initial disabling of equipment within the next week, but this depends on the outcome of the technical groups established with the participation of Syrian experts yesterday. These groups are working on three areas which are key to the mission’s success: verification of the information handed over by the Syrian Government; the safety and security of the inspection teams; and practical arrangements for implementing the plan, under which Syria’s chemical weapons material and equipment are to be eliminated by mid-2014″.   This OPCW press release is posted on the UN News website here.

Continue reading “UN-mandated inspectors back in Syria after Assad government declaration of chemical weapons materials + UN Security Council resolution”

Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 3 [after 21 Aug 2013]

A Chronology of Reports of
Chemical Weapons use in Syria

Working Draft Part 3 [After 21 August 2013]

This is an account of all the reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including warnings of imminent use. The Chronology is ordered according to the dates on which the events happened
[rather than the dates on which they were reported]

Read Part 1 of this Chronology here

Read Part 2 of this Chronology here

After August 21 2013

22 August 2013: UNSG BAN Ki-Moon has sent a team of CW inspectors back to investigate three reported CW attacks after the large 21 August attack on Ghouta. All three were in the Damascus area: the first was in Bahhariya on 22 August [no further details yet available, though this was apparently one of the attacks mentioned by Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari, attacks he blamed on “terrorists” = rebels], and the other two were on 24 August in Jobar and on 25 August in Ashrafiya Sahnaya.

24 August 2013: A statement issued by Medecins Sans Fontiers [MSF] galvanized reaction to the 21 August CW attacks“Syria: Thousands Suffering Neurotoxic Symptoms Treated in Hospitals Supported by MSF,” Doctors Without Borders, 24 August 2013, www.doctorswithoutborders.org

From Richard Guthrie’s CBW Events Syria Chronology for Third Quarter 2013:  MSF issued a press release reporting that three hospitals it supports in Syria have indicated that they had received some 3600 patients‘ displaying neurotoxic symptoms in less than three hours on the morning of  21 August.  Of these patients, 355 died. http://www.cbw-events.org.uk/2013-0912_SY_chrono_Q3_snapshot.PDF

 

24 August 2013: Syrian State TV reports on discovery [from RT] of what the reporter says were rebel preparations to make CW in tunnels in Jobar area of Damascus’ Ghouta-area suburbs. Also reported by Reuters here, which noted that The UN’s High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane arrived in Damascus the same day, “to push for access to the suspected chemical weapons attack site for UN inspectors”.

This report becomes the basis of a bizarre and controversial report published here on 29 August by an internet news organization named Mint Press, based in Minnesota, USA. See follow-up account here.  After weeks of dissembling and dithering, see the “official response” from Mint Press Editor-in-Chief Mnar A. Muhawesh, posted http://www.mintpressnews.com/official-statement-on-dale-gavlaks-involvement-in-syria-exclusive/169507/ — published almost a month after the controversy caused by the  report [and raising further questions]…

 

25 August 2013: Ashrafiya Sahnaya [no further details yet available; a second UN CW team is currently investigating the report on the ground. This was apparently one of the attacks mentioned by Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari, attacks he blamed on “terrorists” [rebels].

26 August 2013: Daily Star [Lebanon] report on Hizballah men evacuated to Beirut hospital after exposure to CW last week in Jobar http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2013/Aug-26/228701-hezbollah-fighters-exposed-to-chemical-agents-in-syria-source.ashx …]

 

28 August 2013: Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations in New York, Bashar al-Jaafari, made a statement to journalists [and anyone else listening] at a UN TV “stakeout” outside the UN Security Council. Jaafari said that he had just addressed a letter asking the UN Secretary-General to mandate immediately the UN team now in Damascus to investigate 3 “heinous” [post-Ghouta] #CW attacks — on 22, 24 + 25 Aug in Jobar, Sahnaya + Bahariya, affecting Syrian troops [dozens of Syrian soldiers were currently being treated in Syrian hospital, he said]. “Members of Syrian Army inhaled poisonous gas … close to what we call Sarin”, he said, as a result of use of chemical agents by “the terrorist armed groups operating in the countryside of Damascus”.

Jaafari: “This makes 420 letters we’ve addressed to the UNSG + UNSC since the beginning of the crisis this year” about all details related to all developments pertaining to the Syrian crisis.
He said his original request for a UN #CW investigation had 2 parts:
1) Did #CW attack take place or not?
2) Who did it?
“But from Day 1”, he said, the UN SG + his experts in the Disarmament Department + three Western Permanent Members of the UN SC had opposed looking at “Who did it?”
Syrian’s Ambassador to UN said that the UN, and therefore the UN #CW investigation team, already has some evidence of rebel/opposition use of #CW.
This evidence, he said, includes a Turkish report that 12 members, “terrorist members”, Jabhat al- Nasra people were arrested in Turkey with 2 liters [he said “liters”] of Sarin. He said that according to the Turkish report, the Jabhat Nasra people took the 2 liters of Sarin with them on board a civilian airliner from Libya to Turkey. The Jabhat Nusra people confessed after capture in Turkey, he said, that they “intended to use it in #Syria”.
Other evidence the UN already has, according to Syria’s Ambassador Jaafari, include an 80-page official Russian report; video from a Russian journalist [Anastasia Popova] who happened to be in Khan al Assel; and Carla del Ponti’s remarks that #CW had been used by the rebels…

Syrian Ambassador Jaafari’s remarks are recorded on video posted on Youtube [in two parts] — the comments below are shown in Part One, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxgfgmKrZlA&feature=youtu.be&a

 

28 August 2013: The UK Prime Minister ?Tweets: @Number10gov – UK to put fwrd resolution authorising all necessary measures under Ch7 of UN Charter to protect civilians from #chemicalweapons in #Syria [It does not get unanimous support, as Russa + China oppose mention of Chapter 7.

28 [or is it 29] August 2013: UK report: “We have assessed previously that the Syrian regime used lethal CW on14 occasions from 2012…We think that there have been other attacks although we do not have the same degree of confidence in the evidence. A clear pattern of regime use has therefore been established”. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/235094/Jp_115_JD_PM_Syria_Reported_Chemical_Weapon_Use_with_annex.pdf

29 August 2013:UK Government motion voted down after many hours of debate. Prime Minister Cameron subsequently says that Britain will not participate in any military strike, even if new and more convincing evidence is provided: “The British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the Government will act accordingly”…

 

30 August 2013: US declassified brief = Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013: “The United States Government assesses with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013. We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack… To protect sources and methods, we cannot publicly release all available intelligence”.

Continue reading “Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 3 [after 21 Aug 2013]”

Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – Working Draft Part 2 [the attacks on 21 Aug 2013]

A Chronology of Reports of
Chemical Weapons use in Syria

Working Draft Part 2 [21 Aug 2013]

This is an account of all the reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including warnings of imminent use. The Chronology is ordered according to the dates on which the events happened
[rather than the dates on which they were reported]

Read Part 1 of this Chronology here

Read Part 3 of this Chronology here

21 August 2013: evidence emerged from Syria of pre-dawn attacks including use of chemical weapons on the Ghouta area in the Damascus suburbs contested by rebel forces and Syrian army units. This attack differs from all previous CW attacks in Syria because of the large number of victims: over 1500 are believed to have died.

Human Rights Watch [HRW] wrote, in their report issued on 10 September 2013: “As more details became available, it became clear that the attack had affected two separate opposition-controlled districts in Damascus Suburbs governorate, located 16 kilometers apart. According to local residents, the Zamalka neighborhood in Eastern Ghouta was struck by rockets at some time between 2 and 3 a.m., and the Moadamiya neighborhood in Western Ghouta was struck by rockets at about 5 a.m., shortly after the completion of the Muslim morning prayer”.

HRW map showing the likely source of CW-carrying rockets fired on Ghouta areas
HRW map showing the likely source of CW-carrying rockets fired on Ghouta

One witness in Moadamiya told HRW, “We didn’t smell anything” — even as people began exhibiting symptoms and fainting, . [In its pure form, Sarin is a clear, colorless, tasteless and odorless liquid. See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Emergency Preparedness and Response: Facts about Sarin,” here.]

“Sarin is a toxic but non-persistent nerve agent. Exposure is usually due to inhalation, and the agent rather quickly degrades and disperses into atmosphere… There are reports that people were able to visit the sites of the attacks a few hours post attack and to handle remnants of rockets associated with the attacks without suffering signs and symptoms of exposure to nerve agent. This suggests that the nerve agent involved is more likely to be the less persistent and less toxic agent, Sarin, rather than VX… The large number of victims of the attack, the clinical signs and symptoms that characterized both the victims and, later, the medical workers who treated the victims, and the fact that areas near attack sites were apparently safe to enter soon after the attack, all strongly suggest that the attack involved an organophosphate chemical more toxic that the pesticide Malathion, and was most likely a toxic but non-persistent chemical warfare nerve agent, such as Sarin, which Syria is believed to possess.

“There is laboratory evidence that Sarin gas has been used in previous attacks allegedly carried out by Syrian government forces, including an earlier attack in Ghouta. A photographer for Le Monde newspaper, Laurent Van der Stockt, was exposed to what he believed was a chemical weapon attack while in Jobar in April 2013. In laboratory tests conducted upon his return to France, he tested positive for exposure to Sarin. [See Le Monde article published on 27 May 2013, here, which is referred to in Part 1 of this Working Draft Chronology]

The HRW report says “The precise identification of the specific chemical agent used in the August 21 attack requires the collection of samples from weapon remnants, environmental samples, and physiological samples from those directly or indirectly exposed to the chemical agent. Subsequent specialized analyses of these samples can reveal the specific agent itself or the reaction or degradation products characteristic of a specific agent.  The UN investigative team has collected such samples, and will issue its findings after the completion of its investigation… This is posted here.

Moadamiya  – [western Ghouta]

A witness in Moadamiya media center told HRW that “all of the rockets were of the same type”  [identified by Human Rights Watch as a Soviet- produced 140mm rocket], and said he counted 7 rockets which fell in two areas of Moadamiya.

HRW says “the attack on Moadamiya on August 21 represents the first known appearance of the 140mm rocket, which has not [previously] been documented in use in the current Syrian conflict”.

“The 140mm rocket is documented in standard reference materials as being present in the Syrian government’s weapons arsenal. Designed in the 1950s, the Soviet Union transferred 200 BM-14 launchers, the most common launcher for 140mm rockets made by the Soviet Union, to  Syria in 1967-1969… according to the database on arms transfers maintained by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

“According to a declassified US munitions catalogue and standard international reference materials published by Jane’s, only three warheads were produced for 140mm rockets:
• M-14-OF high explosive-fragmentation;
• M-14-D smoke containing white phosphorus;
• A chemical warhead containing 2.2 kilograms of Sarin.

“Based on witness statements describing the impact of the rockets and the absence of rocket remnants or reported types of injuries consistent with an attack using high explosive or incendiary payloads, Human Rights Watch believes there is little possibility that the rocket could have been carrying high explosive or incendiary payloads. Given the large number of casualties, this leaves a chemical agent warhead as a strong remaining possibility, which would be consistent with the symptoms displayed by the victims.

HRW graphic showing origin + flight paths of sarin-loaded rockets - 17 Sept 2013

Zamalka – [Eastern Ghouta]

Human Rights Watch documented the use of apparent surface-to-surface 330mm rockets in Zamalka, Eastern Ghouta on August 21. We found no evidence of any use of the 140mm rocket system used in the Moadamiya attack in Eastern Ghouta… Human Rights Watch [was able] to confirm at least four strike sites in Zamalka where at least eight 330mm rockets struck on August 21.  This is unlikely to be a complete account of the number of rockets used in the attack… Based on the lack of evidence of a high-explosive or incendiary attack, and symptoms of victims that are consistent with a chemical attack, Human Rights Watch believes that the 330mm rockets found at the sites were used in the alleged chemical attack…

“The 330mm surface-to-surface rocket that appears to be associated with the August 21 attack on Eastern Ghouta is of a type not listed in standard, specialized, international or declassified reference materials. It is a rocket type that has not been documented before the outbreak of the current Syrian conflict, although it has been documented in a number of other attacks on opposition held areas in the months prior to the Eastern Ghouta attack, including at least one attack in which opposition activists claimed the government had carried out an alleged chemical attack (see next page)…

“Measurements determine that the estimated volume of nerve agent inside the warheads would be approximately 50 to 60 liters, compared to 2.2 liters for the warheads designed for the 140mm rockets.

“Prior to each attack, the warhead of the 330mm rocket would have to be filled with the 50 to 60 liters of nerve agent, a dangerous process that is normally conducted by specialized teams wearing protective gear to prevent exposure to the chemical agents. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any information that the opposition forces have ever possessed the amounts of chemical weapon agent necessary to deploy such rockets, or that they possess the expertise needed to fill the warheads without accidental exposure to the deadly nerve agent…

“[The] dimensions are compatible with the Iranian-produced 333mm Falaq-2 launcher, or close copies and derivatives thereof.  Iran is believed to be the only country in the world to produce rocket launchers in the 333mm category. Videos have appeared showing Syrian forces using the Falaq-2 launching system to launch what appears to be versions of the 330mm rockets, although the launches seen in the video occurred during daytime and are thus unrelated to the August 21 nighttime attack.

“The non-aerodynamic design of the rocket indicates that the rocket would be relatively short-ranged and not capable of accurate targeting. The consistency in the design of these rockets suggests that they were locally but industrially produced, and apparently designed to be deployed with the Iranian 333mm launchers or derivatives thereof.

“While Human Rights Watch cannot establish where the rockets were manufactured, their basic design and unique size matching the Iranian rocket launching system suggest a Syrian industrial origin. The production of a weapon specifically designed to deliver chemical weapons would be a violation of the 1993 Convention on Chemical Weapons, of which only five countries, including Syria, are not parties [n.b. – Syria acceded on 14 September].  While a separate, high-explosive warhead version of the rocket appears to exist based on attacks in other areas, three design differences appear to distinguish the suspected chemical weapon type from the suspected high-explosive type… All of the 330mm rocket remnants identified by Human Rights Watch in the Eastern Ghouta Zamalka attack are of the suspected chemical weapons variant, with red numbering, a shorter-sized warhead, and an additional fill plug.  Most significantly, the design of the payload of the rockets found at the scene of the Eastern Ghouta August 21 attack strongly indicates that it is compatible, and perhaps specifically designed, for the delivery of chemical agents…

Source: “Attacks on Ghouta: Analysis of Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria”, Human Rights Watch, 10 September 2013.  Posted here.

 ************

21 August 2013:  Alternate theory [Tom Wyld]: “Based on my past analyses of the fighting in East Ghouta and appraisals of their involvement in Syrian command and control, I assess as highly likely that Hezbollah and Sepah Pasdaran (Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) were involved in the attack.  If reports are accurate, this is an extraordinary military and geo-political development with grave international consequences”. This is posted here.


End of Part 2

Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 1 [Jan 2012 to 21 Aug 2013]

A Chronology of Reports of
Chemical Weapons use in Syria

[UPDATED] Working Draft Part 1 [January 2012 to 21 August 2013]

This is an account of all the reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including warnings of imminent use. The Chronology is ordered according to the dates on which the events happened
[rather than the dates on which they were reported]

Read Part 2 of this Chronology here

Read Part 3 of this Chronology here

January 2012 to August 21 2013

January 2012: The UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills granted export licences to an unnamed UK chemical company on 17 and 18 January 2012 to send dual-use chemicals [that are used in production of sarin] to Syria — for “use in industrial processes”. The Business Department said “it had accepted assurances from the exporting company that the chemicals would be used in the manufacture of metal window frames and shower enclosures”. A Department spokesperson said these chemicals were requested “for metal finishing of aluminium profiles used in making aluminium showers and aluminium window frames”.

July 2012: The permits were eventually revoked in July, in response to tightened European Union sanctions — before these chemicals were exported. Critics said “it appeared the substances had only stayed out of Syria by chance”…. “Although the export deal, first reported by The Sunday Mail in Scotland, was outlawed by the EU on 17 June last year in a package of sanctions against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the licences were not revoked until 30 July. Chemical weapons experts said that although the two substances have a variety of uses such as the fluoridation of drinking water, sodium and potassium fluoride are also key to producing the chemical effect which makes a nerve agent such as sarin so toxic”.  Source: “Revealed: UK Government let British company export nerve gas chemicals to Syria: UK accused of ‘breath-taking laxity’ over export licence for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride”, by Cahal Milmo, Andy McSmith , Nikhil Kumar, published by The Independent on 2 September 2013, posted here.

But, The Daily Mail reported on 7 September that: “Between July 2004 and May 2010 the Government issued five export licences to two companies, allowing them to sell Syria sodium fluoride, which is used to make sarin. The Government last night admitted for the first time that the chemical was delivered to Syria – a clear breach of international protocol on the trade of dangerous substances that has been condemned as ‘grossly irresponsible’… The sales were made at a time when President Bashar Assad was strongly suspected to be stockpiling the chemical weapons that have caused an international crisis. The UK firms delivered sodium fluoride to a Syrian cosmetics company for what they claim were legitimate purposes”.
Thomas Docherty MP, a member of the Commons Arms Export Controls Committee, said: ‘Previously we thought that while export licences had been granted, no chemicals were actually delivered. Now we know that in the build-up to the Syrian civil war, UK companies – with the backing of our Government – were supplying this potentially lethal substance. While the last export licence was issued in May 2010, these licences are obtained prior to manufacture and the industry standard is for four to five months to pass before the chemicals are delivered. So we are looking at late 2010 for the British supplies of sodium fluoride reaching Syria’…”
Source: “Britain sent poison gas chemicals to Assad: Proof that the UK delivered Sarin agent to Syrian regime for SIX years”, Mark Nicol, The Daily Mail, 7 September 2013 – updated 8 September 2013, posted here.

It appears that the news of these sales + export licenses was leaked in the immediate aftermath of the parliamentary defeat of the UK Government motion, at the end of August 2013, to join in proposed military strikes on Syria in the aftermath of the 21 August 2013 #CW attacks on Ghoutha which killed hundreds, possibly over 1500, of civilian casualties.

*****************************

13 July 13 2012: News reports indicated that the Syrian government was moving its #CW stockpile to one or more undisclosed location[s].
“Red Line” remarks:

13 July 13 2012: Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters at the Pentagon later that same day, however, that “The Syrian regime has control of its chemical weapons stockpiles”. He added: “We believe that the Syrian government has a very serious responsibility to protect its stockpiles of chemical weapons…We would, of course, caution them strongly against any intention to use those weapons. That would cross a serious red line”. And, he said, if any Syrian officials choose to utilize chemical weapons they will be held accountable for their actions. Little added that “We are watching very closely — not just the United States, but the international community — to make sure that they maintain control over those stockpiles, and of course, to ensure that they don’t use them”… Posted here.
20 August 2012 – US President Barak Obama: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus…That would change my equation…We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans”.   Source: James Ball, the Washington Post, posted here.

18 July 2012: First Iranian letter [or “warning”] sent through Swiss Embassy in Tehran to Washington warning of preparations [by “rebels”] for #CW use in Syria.

Scott Peterson reported recently in the Christian Science Monitor that “Iran says that it warned the United States directly, in mid- and late- 2012, and at least once after that, about the risks of chemical weapons among the rebels…The [Iranian] letter acquired by the Monitor references messages from July 18 and Dec. 1, 2012″. Posted here.

Peterson’s report followed up on remarks by the new Foreign Minister of Iran, on 1 September 2013, that Iran had informed the US 9 months earlier that “extremist elements” are transferring chemical weapons to Syria. In an interview with the Iranian weekly, Aseman, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the country had sent an official memo to the Swiss embassy in Tehran which represents the US interests section in Iran and informed US that ‘Hand-made chemical weapon Sarin is being transferring to Syria’… “In that memo we warned that extremist groups may use the chemical agents,” Zarif said — although the “Americans never replied to the memo.” This is published here.

===========================

23 July 2013:  The French Government report issued on 2 September reported this: “Syria has long been equipped with a a massive chemical arsenal, together with many related delivery systems. The Syrian regime acknowledged as much on July 23, 2012 through its Foreign Affairs spokesperson, who confirmed that: ‘these different weapons [chemical and non-conventional] are stockpiled and secured under the supervision of the armed forces’…”

Source: ‘National executive summary of declassified intelligence: Assessment of Syria’s chemical warfare programme’, French Government report dated 2 September 2013, posted here.

===========================

September 2012: US + Russian officials began work, bilaterally, without public announcement, on the issue of Syria’s #CW, as we learned a year later, on 14 September 2013:

Paul Adams @BBCPaulAdams 14 Sep 2013 — US officials in Geneva say Americans and Russians have been discussing how to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons for a year.

Marian Houk @Marianhouk 15 Sep 2013 — Transcript of background briefing by State Dept officials at US Mission in Geneva yesterday mentions 1 year of US-Russian contacts on #Syria

US State Dept official[s] briefing on background in Geneva on 14 September: “We had groups that have been meeting for a year between our national security councils to talk about the elimination + destruction of #CW…in Syria, because the entire world understood that if we got to a peace, we were going to have to deal with the chemical weapons… There’ve been, I think, 5 meetings of that group over the past yr, so we already had experience working w/ each other + sharing expert info…But we did not come to this meeting with a full-fledged plan”. This is posted here.

17 September 2012: Der Spiegel reports that Syria’s military had conducted #CW tests:
“The Syrian army is believed to have tested missile systems for poison gas shells at the end of August, statements from various witnesses indicate. The tests took place near a chemical weapons research center at Safira east of Aleppo, witnesses told SPIEGEL. A total of five or six empty shells devised for delivering chemical agents were fired by tanks and aircraft, at a site called Diraiham in the desert near the village of Khanasir. Iranian officers believed to be members of the Revolutionary Guards were flown in by helicopter for the testing, according to the statements…In recent months, the guards have been replaced and reinforced by more than 100 elite troops from the 4th Tank Division. In addition, power generators and large supplies of diesel have recently been brought to the plant to safeguard the supply of electricity in the event of an attack by rebels, reports say.  This is published here.

1 December 2012: Second Iranian letter, or “message”, sent through Swiss Embassy in Tehran to Washington warning of preparations [by “rebels”] for #CW use in Syria.

Scott Peterson reported recently in the Christian Science Monitor that “Iran says that it warned the United States directly, in mid- and late- 2012, and at least once after that, about the risks of chemical weapons among the rebels…The [Iranian] letter acquired by the Monitor references messages from July 18 and Dec. 1, 2012″. This is posted here.

 

3 December 2012: Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman wrote for Wired.com’s Danger Room: “Engineers working for the Assad regime in Syria have begun combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas [ isopropanol, popularly known as rubbing alcohol, and methylphosphonyl difluoride], an American official with knowledge of the situation tells Danger Room.  The U.S. doesn’t know why the Syrian military made the move, which began in the middle of last week and is taking place in central Syria…[Last week] the Syrian military began combining some of the binaries. ‘They didn’t do it on the whole arsenal, just a modest quantity’, the official says … Back in July, the Assad regime publicly warned that it might use its chemical weapons to stop ‘external’ forces from interfering in Syria’s bloody civil war. The announcement sparked a panic in the intelligence services of the U.S. and its allies, which stepped up their efforts to block shipments of precursors for those weapons from entering the country … Fighting around the Syrian capital of Damascus has intensified, as rebel troops captured a half-dozen bases around the city”.

Source: ‘Exclusive: U.S. Sees Syria Prepping Chemical Weapons for Possible Attack’, Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman, Wired.com’s Danger Room, 3 December 2012, posted  http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/12/syria-chemical-weapons-3/

 

14 December 2012: “With Syrian rebel forces gaining in strength, elite units loyal to Bashar Assad received a frightening order a few weeks ago: begin preparations that could lead to the use of chemical weapons…Danger Room first reported last week that U.S. officials recently saw indications that at least some Syrian military forces mixed precursor chemicals for sarin gas, which got the weaponized stocks to the point where they could be loaded onto planes and dropped.

The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick adds detail to that account. Some elite troops received “specific orders” to prep the weapons. At least one Syrian army unit was caught on surveillance photos loading “special military vehicles” that could be used to transport the weapons…  Warrick writes that there were fears throughout the U.S. intelligence community that ‘a single commander could unleash the deadly poisons without orders from higher up the chain of command’… Assad’s motivations remain unclear to U.S. officials, but according to Warrick, someone in the Syrian chain of command provided instructions to prep sarin for potential battlefield use about two weeks ago. Assad’s intentions are unknowable, but using sarin will most foreclose on the life-saving option of finding a foreign country willing to accept Assad for exile”.
Source: ‘U.S. Surveillance Caught Syria’s Chemical Weapons Prep’, Spencer Ackerman, The Danger Room on Wired.com, 14 December 2012. This is posted here.

 

Continue reading “Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 1 [Jan 2012 to 21 Aug 2013]”

How can a winter storm be so bad — and so very bad in Palestinian areas?

We now know, from Reuters, that “The worst winter storm in two decades has hit the eastern Mediterranean this week”,

The Reuters report, published here, notes that in Syria, “dozens of people have died … in four days of relentless extreme weather. At least 17 people have also died due to the storm in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Schools in some areas have been shut for days, refugee camps flooded and villages isolated by closed roads. Meteorological agencies in Israel and Lebanon both called it the worst storm in 20 years … Families are burning doors and chairs to keep warm in the absence of fuel in Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city, now largely in rebel hands, said Michal Przedalcki, from Czech charity People In Need, working in northern Syria. ‘Unfortunately I think it quite likely that people will die from the severe weather conditions. Already people have not been eating enough for several  months, and that exposes their bodies to more disease and infection, especially after also living through weeks of cold conditions’, he said”.

Temporary camps for Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan are flooded and freezing.

[However, it’s  reported here to be even worse for Palestinian refugees fleeing from Syria. who “are being placed in compounds under strict conditions….[and] are being banned from entering Jordanian cities”… UPDATE: The Times of Israel later reported here that “Syria’s southern neighbor, Jordan, has begun to turn away Palestinian refugees fleeing toward the border, Al-Jazeera reported earlier this week”, in a post published here. The Al-Jazeera report noted that “while Palestinian refugees carrying Jordanian IDs were allowed to enter Jordan, children of Jordanian women who were not citizens are being refused”… And Al-Jazeera reported that Jordanian government spokesperson Samih Maaytah said that “Jordan does not prevent the return of its citizens… but the transfer of Palestinian refugees from Syria to Jordan is a matter of tens of thousands, something Jordan cannot bear”. The Al-Jazeera report added that “Jordan has absorbed some 126,000 Syrian refugees, but Palestinians fleeing Syria are placed in a separate refugee camp at the Cyber City compound, under stricter conditions, and are banned from entering Jordanian cities. The Jordanian government fears that an influx of Palestinian refugees may tilt the demographic balance in Jordan even more towards the Palestinians, who are already believed to comprise a large majority of the population”…]

Some of the homes for Palestinian refugees in Al-Amary camp near the center of downtown Ramallah are also flooded and cold. The camp, located in a low-lying area, is flooded in even normal rainfall. But the rain in this storm has been continuing for days. Most of the time, the 8,000 residents of Al-Amary camp had only each other to rely upon for bailing out the icy muddy water for several days.

Most residents of Ramallah were house-bound by Wednesday evening, because their cars could not make it up even a slight incline — never mind the hills that many people in Ramallah live on.

UPDATE: At 21h35, there was… well, not a snow plow, but a yellow catepillar construction vehicle with big treaded wheels and a scoop in front that was clearing a single lane on the street with the slight incline, going up to Ramallah Hospital.

By the end of the afternoon, there was a light dusting of snow on streets + roads again in Ramallah. Most cars [worn tires?] can’t make it up a slight incline. Only one passenger car, and one heavy truck on its second try, made it in one very slightly inclined area. Fascinating behavior ensued.

There was flooding yesterday in Tel Aviv, and in northern Israel and also in Lebanon — and in the West Bank, where there appears to be no kind of drainage for any of the new roads.

It’s bad everywhere. But it’s hard to describe enough how much worse the grimness of the difficult, exhausting, depressing + stressful experience of week-long winter storms is, in Palestinian areas.

Another Reuters story, posted here, reports that:

      “Heavy winter downpours have turned some Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank into a morass of filth and flooding as an Israeli barrier blocks the waters from draining away. In Qalqilya, a town of 42,000 in the northern West Bank almost completely surrounded by the concrete wall, Khaled Kandeel and his family huddled by an open fire in a shed as trash-laden water swelled through his pear orchard. ‘Before the wall, the water used to drain fine, and flowed down to the sea easily. They could just flip a switch and end our suffering, but they don’t’, Kandeel said, his breath steamy from the winter cold…Drainage channels run under the imposing ramparts but their automated metal gates are mostly closed and now clogged with refuse and stones that block the outflow of storm water. The Israeli military, citing security reasons, generally bars locals from clearing the obstructions or digging their own channels close to the barrier…Hemmed-in residents of northern towns in the West Bank have been deprived of large swathes of rural land, forcing poorly-regulated waste dumping closer to farms and homes. Driving rain could not mask the stench of raw sewage being unloaded from a tanker on a village road outside Qalqilya on Tuesday, its putrid contents mixing with the brown torrent pouring past olive trees clustered on the hills … Planning restrictions, inked as part of interim peace accords by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators almost two decades ago, widely limit locals’ ability to build water infrastructure or repair damaged or polluted wells.
      But in Hebron, whose old city is a flashpoint of conflict with Jewish settlers, rare coordination with the Israeli military allowed Palestinian officials to lift the concrete slabs which separate the ethnic enclaves to relieve flooding.  ‘We removed the concrete to prevent the passage of water to the old city souq, where flooding reached up to one meter’, said Walid Abu Halawa of Hebron’s construction commission. ‘We also opened holes in the iron barrier built by the Occupation at the terminus of the souq’, he told Reuters”…

And many are facing this misery without any money.

In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority employees [the PA is the largest employer in the occupied Palestinian territory] got 2nd half of their October salary at beginning of November. But, the banks took full loan installments due — leaving many people without cash since the beginning of October.

At the beginning of December, no salaries were paid… On 24 December, the first half of November salaries were finally paid, but again the banks took their full loan installments due from the Palestinian government employees. Government employees were left with even less cash than in early November…

Hard to understand, but many families here, dependent on the area’s largest employer, have had no cash to operate on since early October.

And this winter weather is cruel, and exhausting, and seems endless…

Japanese journalist Mika Yamamoto killed in Aleppo fighting

International [paraphrasing, here] and Arabic blood had been mixed in Aleppo: the words last night of “Captain Ahmad Ghazali, Commander [and spokesperson] of the ‘Northern Storm Brigade’ [Liwa Asifat al-Shamal in Aleppo] said as his comrades moved the body of 45-year-old award-winning Japanese journalist Mika Yamamoto into a van for transport into Turkey.

Yamamoto, a “veteran war correspondent” [words of the The Guardan] who worked for the Tokyo-based Japan Press photo and film agency [described in The Guardian here as an independent TV news provider that specializes in conflict zone coverage], and a former television anchorwoman died hours earlier during fighting she and a colleague [perhaps also her husband/partner?] were covering in Aleppo.

Captain Ahmad Ghazali actually said that “Western and Arabic blood have been mixed in Aleppo”, but that is a little narrow in focus — and with Yamamoto’s death the word “international” would be more accurate. Yamamoto is the fourth international journalist killed during the Syrian uprising, and some 20 Syrian journalists have reportedly died covering the conflict.

Here is an undated still photo that has been posted by MSNBC here:
Maki Yamomoto, Japanese war correspondent killed in Aleppo,

And here is another photo posted by AFP

Maki Yamomoto who was killed in Aleppo on 20 Aug 2012

AFP reported overnight from Tokyo that “Veteran war reporter Mika Yamamoto died after being shot in the neck as she covered the anti-regime movement in the city, her long-time collaborator Kazutaka Sato told Japanese broadcasters”.  Sato also works with The Japan Press agency.

According to the AFP, Sato told Japanese public television broadcaster NHK that: “We saw a group of 10 to 15 troops ahead on the right, who were walking in double file…When they started shooting, I dashed towards my left where I saw a Free Syrian Army soldier”.  AFP added that Sato told Japanese national television NTV that “The one at the front (of the group of troops) was wearing a helmet and I immediately thought they were government troops. I think I told her to run. At that moment, they started shooting. “We all ran and scattered. After that, I couldn’t see Yamamoto and was told to go to hospital. I found Yamamoto’s body there”.

AFP reported that “Sato was told by a hospital official that Yamamoto was already dead when she arrived, NHK said. The TBS network cited Sato as saying she had been shot in the neck”.

Was the shot fired by a sniper? Was Yamamoto, an international female correspondent, deliberatedly targetted?

The current heavy fighting in Aleppo has been billed as decisive and determinative — an important show-down between the Free Syria Army and the Syrian government.

A very brief video was available yesterday, showing Yamamoto, apparently already dead, and Sato near her — published on Syria Freedom’s Tumblr website [described as “a compilation of Resources and Archives from the Syrian Revolution”, here], but because of the graphic showing of a severe wound to her arm, Youtube has now restricted viewing to those 18 and older here.

Captain Ghazali said, with bitterness, that “We welcome all the media and journalists who come here. We secure their entry, but we are not responsible for Assad’s killing and attacks on foreign media, not even the Syrian media … we are not safe here, every journalist enters on their responsibility, or on the responsibility of the country that they belong to, or the media organisation that sent them … We are now securing the exit of the body of the Japanese journalist and we are ready to secure the exit of any wounded journalist or body, that is all we can do .. I repeat .. that the security of those entering is their own responsibility, and that of the countries that sent them. I hope that those countries would react for their own people, though they didn’t react for the Syrian people”. A translation of his words was posted here

A video [that begins with a close up of Yamamoto’s corpse] and that shows Captain Gazali speaking [backed by four armed men] is posted on Youtube here.

A screenshot of Yamamoto’s face, taken from this video, is shown on Facebook, here.

Captain Ghazali said also said that a local correspondent for the U.S.-government funded Al-Hurra TV is missing [named here as Bashar Abu Anas, elsewhere as Bashar Fahmy], who was captured along with his cameraman [Cuneyt Unal], as well as a Turkish journalist who is not otherwise identified.

Earlier this year, in February, American journalist Marie Colvin [working for the Times of London] and French photographer Reme Ochlin were killed in Homs, and a British cameraman and a French correspondent were injured, when they were filing materials with colleagues in a Free Syria Army media center. It appears that in this case, the Syrian Army was able to target the journalists by tracking the journalists satellite phone signals, as we reported earlier here. And, in January, French television reporter Gilles Jacques, was killed in a sudden shelling attack on a square in Homs.

All these journalists, including Yamamoto, were with the Free Syria Army when they were killed.

Continue reading “Japanese journalist Mika Yamamoto killed in Aleppo fighting”

When a state kills its own citizens – cont'd

On Wednesday, the Syrian Air Force struck the Aleppo-area town of Azaz [Ezzaz or Azzaz or Izaz], very near the border with Turkey, killing over 40 people, and causing widescale damage to a civilian area, as this photo shows:

Damage in Ezzaz after Syrian Air Force bombing on 15 August

This photo was posted on Twitter here by @NMSyria.

Despite the proximity to the border, the only reported Turkish response was to take in the wounded for medical treatment.  Some of the seriously wounded later died in Turkey, compounding confusion about numbers of mortalities.

Voice of America [VOA] reporter Scott Bobb, in the town yesterday for an interview with “a local rebel commander”, was present and apparently taken by surprise at the time of the attack. He reported that “Azaz [Ezzaz] has been in rebel control for weeks and was not a government target until Wednesday…’This town had been held by the FSA for some time. It was fairly stable and many of the refugees had returned. Locals say it was the first bombing they have experienced”… His report is posted here.

Bobb also reported that “The citizens are panicking. Many have just jumped into whatever vehicle they have – cars, tractors, motorcycles – and headed away from the town with the fear that this may be the beginning of an offensive … I have seen dozens of people fleeing, often families, sometimes three or four on a motorcycle. I saw one family of about six on a farm tractor crossing through a rural road, an olive tree field, and others have come through in ambulances, pickup trucks, civilian vehicles, cars”…

But there were many who didn’t flee immediately, including those who were helping to search through the rubble of destroyed buildings, looking for survivors or for bodies, as this photo, also posted on Twitter here by @NMSyria, shows:
Survivors of air attack in Ezzat search through rubble for survivors - 15 August 2012

    UPDATE: Human Rights Watch [HRW] has compiled a report during a visit two hours after the attacks by a Syrian fighter jet on Wednesday, and is now saying that 40 people were killed, and more than 100 were wounded. HRW said that: “at least two bombs destroyed an entire block of houses in the al-Hara al-Kablie neighborhood of Azaz, in Syria’s northern Aleppo province … Azaz residents told Human Rights Watch that, at around 3 p.m., they saw a fighter jet drop at least two bombs on the residential area. Within seconds, dozens of houses in an area of approximately 70-by-70 meters – more than half a football field – were flattened. Houses on the surrounding streets were significantly damaged, with collapsed walls and ceilings. On the streets around the bombed area, windows were broken and some walls had collapsed. Two opposition Free Syrian Army facilities in the vicinity of the attack might have been targets of the Syrian aircraft, Human Rights Watch said. One was the headquarters of the local Free Syrian Army brigade, in the former building of the Baath party, two streets away from the block that was hit. The other was a detention facility where the Free Syrian Army held ‘security detainees’ – government military personnel and members of pro-government shabeeha militia. Neither of these facilities was damaged in the attack … The exact number of victims is difficult to verify. Most of the wounded were transported to hospitals across the nearby Turkish border”. This report is posted here.

Other reports, on Twitter, claimed that one or more “vacuum” bombs had been dropped in the government aerial attack on Azaz on Wednesday.

In the aftermath, Syria’s membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC] was suspended overnight, as it had been months earlier in the Arab League.

And, a two-person committee appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva issued its latest report, on developments from 15 February to 20 July.  This latest report is the first since the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] made a determination [it is apparently up to the ICRC to do this] that the conflict in Syria had reached the level of civil war.

The UN HRC-appointed committee is composed of human rights expert Paulo Pinheiro of Brazil and Karen Abu Zayd of the U.S., has not been permitted to enter Syria, and is working from compiled reports and visits to neighboring countries in the region, as well as by interviews conducted over the phone and by Skype.

Their latest report said there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that the documented instances reported to them show “widespread or systematic attack against predominantly civilian population”. And, the UN HRC report said, the commission concluded that the scale of the attacks on a predominantly civilian population showed they were “conducted pursuant to State policy”.

Continue reading “When a state kills its own citizens – cont'd”

When a state kills its own citizens

What does it look like when a state kills its own citizens [people the state is meant to protect]?

Here, just seconds before death and destruction hits, a Syrian fighter plane fires rockets into the northern Syrian town of Tel Rafat, some 37 km (23 miles) north of Aleppo on 9 August:

Via The Daily Telegraph - a photo gallery of stunning shots by Goran Tomasevic in Syria for Reuters

Here, at about the same time as the photo taken above, Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic Free Syrian Army fighter fires an anti-aircraft gun as boys watch and as a Syrian Air Force fighter bomber fires rockets during an air strike on Tel Rafaat:

Goran Tomasevic photo of Free Syrian Army fighters in Tel Rafat on 9 August 2012

These photos are part of a photo gallery of Goran Tomasevic’s photos for Reuters, over a 12-day period in Syria, published by The Telegraph, here.

Continue reading “When a state kills its own citizens”