WHEN CHEMICALS RAINED ON SYRIA
SYRIA, 2000-PRESENT 250,000 KILLED
The first reports filter through at 02:45 local time on August 21, 2013. According to eyewitnesses, at least 15 rockets have landed in Ghouta, an agricultural belt around the Syrian capital Damascus, an area controlled by opponents of President Bashar al-assad.
Over the next few hours, sickening videos are uploaded to Youtube showing graphic footage of adults, children and small babies who are clearly sick, yet have no external signs of injury. Their symptoms, described by medics on the ground, include shortness of breath, blurred vision, vomiting and eventual loss of consciousness – all classic signs of a chemical weapons attack, a hallmark of al-assad’s regime during the Syrian Civil War. By the end of the day, the death toll was more than 1,300. The nerve agent sarin, an odourless, colourless toxin 20 times more deadly cyanide, was the main culprit.
The Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 agreed to a global ban on the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, but it would be another 20 years before Syria came to the party and signed up, eventually bowing to international pressure after the Ghouta attacks on its own civilians. (In the intervening years, the Middle East nation defied the global mood by stockpiling and testing, insisting the need to defend itself from Israel’s nuclear threat.)
But if the international community thought ratifying the Convention would end al-assad’s repugnant offensives, they were wrong. Two years later, the president’s troops dropped chlorine bombs on insurgent-held areas of Syria. As World of Knowledge went to press, the last confirmed chemical attack occurred in Aleppo on April 7, 2016, killing 23 people and injuring more than 100.
When he’s not poisoning his own people, al-assad dabbles in other time-honoured dictator activities: false imprisonment, torture and executions.