Both sides guilty in Syria’s chem­i­cal war­fare night­mare

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With­out hav­ing de­stroyed chlo­rine or mus­tard gas sup­plies in Syria, the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons an­nounced in Jan­uary the end of the de­struc­tion process of Syria’s chem­i­cal arse­nal.

With mus­tard and chlo­rine gas con­tin­u­ally used as the weapon of choice by the pro­tag­o­nists in this war, the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion is suf­fer­ing im­mensely, par­tic­u­larly in non­govern­ment con­trolled ar­eas where med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties are not able to re­spond.

This is due to an in­abil­ity to pro­cure spe­cific an­ti­dotes or pro­tec­tive equip­ment from the govern­ment or non­govern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Fol­low­ing the chem­i­cal at­tack that tar­geted the Da­m­as­cus coun­try­side in Au­gust 2013, the lack of proper mea­sures to deal with the at­tack led to large num­bers of in­juries and deaths due to se­condary con­tam­i­na­tion among vic­tims, med­i­cal per­son­nel and res­cue teams.

The fall­out from such at­tacks has been tracked and mon­i­tored by the In­ter­na­tional Union of Med­i­cal Re­lief and Care Or­gan­i­sa­tions (UOSSM) that pro­vides free med­i­cal aid to all Syr­i­ans and op­er­ates 12 hos­pi­tals and sup­ports 120 clin­ics in Syria.

Dr Hous­sam Al­na­has of the UOSSM has de­vel­oped re­sponse pro­to­cols and man­u­als in the case of chem­i­cal at­tacks, and warned against the on­go­ing dan­gers th­ese at­tacks pose to the pop­u­la­tion.

In be­sieged Aleppo, civil­ians were tar­geted in the past few months with five chem­i­cal strikes, and on Septem­ber 6 an at­tack left 128 in­jured, in­clud­ing 37 chil­dren.

As re­cently as Novem­ber 20 an en­tire fam­ily suf­fo­cated – the par­ents and all four chil­dren.

Chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks in Syria clearly pose a dan­ger of lethal pro­por­tions. De­spite the cre­ation by 25 med­i­cal re­lief or­gan­i­sa­tions of the Chem­i­cal, Bi­o­log­i­cal, Ra­di­o­log­i­cal, and Nu­clear Task Force to improve pub­lic aware­ness and re­sponses, it has not had the co-op­er­a­tion of govern­ment agen­cies or of­fi­cial in­sti­tu­tions to sup­port the crim­i­nal doc­u­men­ta­tion pro­cesses.

This could be be­cause the Syr­ian govern­ment is just as guilty as IS of us­ing chem­i­cal weapons.

It is time for the in­ter­na­tional me­dia to start shin­ing a spot­light on th­ese atroc­i­ties.

It was af­ter the me­dia frenzy which showed footage of the hu­man im­pact of the chem­i­cal at­tack on the Da­m­as­cus coun­try­side in 2013 that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil de­cided to act.

Pic­ture: EPA

Peo­ple flee the Al-Sal­hen neigh­bour­hood in eastern Aleppo, Syria, this week as Syr­ian govern­ment forces carry out a large-scale of­fen­sive to ex­pel in­sur­gents. There have been de­plorable gas at­tacks on both sides.

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