In a rather unprecedented move, one of the allies which took part in last night’s air strikes on Syria, published the intelligence reports on the basis of which decisions were taken.
The report concludes that “On the basis of the overall assessment and on the intelligence collected by our (French) services, and in the absence to date of chemical samples analysed by our own laboratories, France therefore considers (i) that, beyond possible doubt, a chemical attack was carried out against civilians at Douma on 7 April 2018; and (ii) that there is no plausible scenario other than that of an attack by Syrian armed forces as part of a wider offensive in the Eastern Ghouta enclave.
According to this report the Syrian armed and security forces are also considered to be responsible for other actions in the region as part of this same offensive in 2017 and 2018. It adds that Russia has undeniably provided active military support to the operations to seize back Ghouta. It has, moreover, provided constant political cover to the Syrian regime over the employment of chemical weapons, both at the UN Security Council and at the OPCW, despite conclusions to the contrary by the JIM.
The report states that two non-governmental medical organisations active in Ghouta (the Syrian American Medical Society and the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations), whose information is generally reliable, publicly stated that strikes had targeted in particular local medical infrastructure on 6 and 7 April. A massive influx of patients in health centres in Eastern Ghouta (at the very least 100 people) presenting symptoms consistent with exposure to a chemical agent was observed and documented during the early evening. In total, several dozens of people, more than forty according to several sources, are thought to have died from exposure to a chemical substance.
French experts analysed the symptoms identifiable in the images and videos that were made public. These images and videos were taken either in enclosed areas in a building where around 15 people died, or in local hospitals that received contaminated patients. These symptoms can be described as follows:
- Suffocation, asphyxia or breathing difficulties,
- Mentions of a strong chlorine odour and presence of green smoke in affected areas,
- Hypersalivation and hypersecretions (particularly oral and nasal),
- Skin burns and corneal burns.
No deaths from mechanical injuries were visible. All of these symptoms are characteristic of a chemical weapons attack, particularly choking agents and organophosphorus agents or hydrocyanic acid. Furthermore, the apparent use of bronchodilators by the medical services observed in videos reinforces the hypothesis of intoxication by choking agents.
Why it pays Syria to use chemical weapons?
The report says that “the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons makes sense from both the military and strategic points of view:
- Tactically speaking, this type of ammunition is used to flush out enemy fighters sheltering in homes and engage in urban combat in conditions that are more favorable to the regime. It accelerates victory and has a multiplier effect that helps speed up the capitulation of the last bastion of armed groups.
- Strategically speaking, chemical weapons and particularly chlorine, documented in Eastern Ghouta since early 2018, are especially used to punish civilian populations present in zones held by fighters opposed to the Syrian regime and to create a climate of terror and panic that encourages them to surrender.
Source Reuters, CNN