Chemical Weapon Attack at Douma, the Truth is Still Far Away

Let’s start from the beginning. From that night between April 7 and 8 last year which marked one of the moments of greatest tension in the Syrian war. The Russian and Syrian air forces were bombing Douma, one of the most important inhabited centres of eastern Ghouta, while ground troops advanced with difficulty.

On this patch of land, not far from the capital, the militia men of Jaysh al-Islam have barricaded themselves. They are a radical faction who in the past carried out brutal crimes against religious minorities. It is from these very suburbs that the jihadists continue to launch missiles and mortar shots on the capital Damascus.

Donald Trump draws his red line and announces that the United States are ready to bomb Syria should there be any chemical attacks . And that is exactly what occurs on the night between April 7 and 8. The images released by the inhabitants of Douma are horrifying. Women and children are forced to wear masks in order to be able to breathe and many people can be seen foaming at the mouth. The finger is immediately pointed at Bashar al Assad, accused, once again, of using chemical weapons against his own people. A heinous crime which must be punished. This is the reason why the United States, promptly backed by France and Great Britain, launched a shelling attack on Syria. But not immediately. The world remained with bated breath for six days when, on April 14, American cruise missiles light up the sky and then hit down on a site allegedly used by the regime to develop chemical weapons.

In the meantime, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) begins its investigations. Not without difficulty seeing as, at least at the start, organisation inspectors come under fire from armed men (to this day we still do not know with certainty whether the shots were fired by government or rebel forces) and are subsequently slowed down in entering Douma. In short, the truth was still far away back in those days of April, and still appears like a faraway mirage today as OPCW reports have refuted the possibility that Assad used nerve agents, however implying that chlorine might have been used. This is history. However reports on recent events have added yet another piece to this puzzle, not devoid of questions marks.

A few days ago the website Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, which already from the name suggests its affiliation to Assad’s regime, published a document dated February 27 drawn up by Ian Henderson, one of the OPCW experts, which in certain extracts contrasts with the version presented by the OPCW, especially where it reports: “The dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders and the surrounding scene of the incidents were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder being delivered from an aircraft. (…) In summary observations at the scene suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at the two locations rather than being delivered by aircraft.” In short: the cylinders containing chlorine must have been positioned by the Army of Islam jihadists in an area which had previously been bombarded by government forces in order to make Assad appear as the culprit and provoke a reaction from the US.

The existence of this document was revealed to the general public by Peter Hitchens, on his blog at Mail Online, who, given the original source (as mentioned certainly not impartial), immediately contacted the OPCW, obtaining a highly articulated answer which ended with the following words: “The OPCW technical secretariat is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question”. Which in a nutshell means: the document is reliable and it is ours.

What happened in Douma?

Today, one year later, it is still impossible to know with certainty what happened in Douma. The OPCW probably doesn’t know either as testified by the above quoted document. Moreover, as Robert Fisk wrote on The Independent, “In all cases of this kind, it is necessary to understand that the search for evidence of gas attacks is notoriously difficult. It is necessarily an inexact science. Unlike shell fragments, shrapnel, mortar base plates, rocket computer codings or arms manuals, gas carries no convenient label which might betray the owners or manufacturers.”

What this document reveals, as Fisk himself states to the OPCW is that there is a majority of the scientists who have come to the conclusion that the ‘gas’ cylinders were dropped through the roof while a minority do not believe so. As the OPCW documents themselves reveal, when faced with alleged information regarding chemical attacks one must be very wary. And proof of this is the refuted chemical attack at Idlib which Assad was blamed for on May 19. A chemical weapons attack which however, never occurred.