New reports of an alleged large-scale deadly chemical weapons attack just outside the Syrian capital, Damascus, is another troubling case of the widespread and indiscriminate killing in the two-year-old civil war in Syria and must be condemned by all parties.
Green Cross International (GCI) has repeatedly criticized any alleged use of chemical weapons within the conflict, with the Syrian government and rebel forces accusing each other of using such weapons.
But 21 August’s latest reported attack – the 14th reported during the past eight months – may be the most destructive.
The United Nations expressed its shock at reports of the latest alleged use of chemical weapons. “We see the need to investigate this as soon as possible; no matter what the conclusions, this represents a serious escalation with grave humanitarian and human consequences,” Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said on 21 August, reiterating the “deep shock” expressed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the alleged attacks.
News reports, citing Syrian opposition groups, estimate that over 1,000 Syrian civilians, including many children, were killed or injured in the sudden rocket attack. Amateur videos are now circulating showing dead and injured without any visible sign of conventional injuries.
Dr. Paul Walker, Director of the Green Cross Environmental Security and Sustainability programme, said: “The apparent physical symptoms of victims of this attack – breathing difficulties, frothing from the mouth, pinpoint eyeballs – clearly indicate a chemical agent attack by nerve agents. Unfortunately, without on-site inspections and victim interviews, it will be difficult to conclusively determine what agent was used and how it was delivered.”
Ironically, this attack comes at the same time that a United Nations inspection team of 20 experts, including experienced chemical weapons inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and public health experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), had begun on-site inspections at other alleged chemical weapon attack sites elsewhere in the country.
“We are pleased that the United Nations Security Council has met in an emergency session on this horrific event, but it is clear that Syrian President Assad must allow the UN inspection team, situated in-country now only a few miles from the alleged attack, to undertake an on-site and unfettered inspection of this latest incident within the next 24 hours,” Dr Walker added.
Green Cross also calls again for Syria, only one of seven countries now who remain outside of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to join the abolition regime, declare its chemical weapons stockpiles, and safely destroy them under OPCW inspected auspices. GCI has also called for the other six countries – Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan – to join the treaty regime and universalize a world free of chemical weapons.
GCI was founded in 1993 and is an independent non-profit and nongovernmental organization working to address the inter-connected global challenges of security, poverty eradication and environmental degradation through advocacy and local projects. GCI is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and has a network of national organizations in around 30 countries. Over 2-3 September 2013 it will be celebrating its 20th anniversary with a range of international events being held out of Geneva.