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”.
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.
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 —