On August 21, 2012 at 5:00AM, the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies received information suggesting the possible use of chemical weapons in the Eastern Ghouta region, which is located in a province of the Damascus suburbs. Two hours later, DCHRS received additional information about another possible chemical weapons attack in Muadamiyat area in the Western Ghouta region. Furthermore, as reports were arriving from different medical locations, DCHRS learned that the increasing number of injured people who were being transferred to field hospitals was highly significant information. As a result, DCHRS began contacting the medical crew operating in the targeted areas. DCHRS contacted members working in its local offices, activists, local coordination committees, legal and human rights offices operating in the surrounding areas of the al-Ghouta region in order to document, collect, and gather information about the most horrific massacre ever yet seen.
The investigation was conducted by DCHRS. The main sources of information were received via DCHRS’s local offices, field team members, and activists who volunteer with DCHRS.
This report covers the days from August 21, 2013 to September 1, 2013. DCHRS was able to document 678 victims who were killed by chemical weapons. However, DCHRS is certain that the number of victims exceeded 1,600 as a result of the large area that was affected and the lack of medical equipment, which in turn caused many people to die from suffocation.
The DCHRS team has faced many obstacles while conducting this report, such as the severe attack against the al-Ghouta region by the Syrian regime military and security forces. DCHRS learned that the regime prohibited anyone from entering or leaving the region, which was another factor hindering their documentation process. Also, due to the clash between the regime forces and the rebels in the surrounding areas, DCHRS’s field members and activists were vulnerable to random shelling and felt threatened working in such a deadly area. In addition, the bad communication services, along with the constant interruption in the Internet, phone, and land line services, made the staff’s job even more difficult.
The Targeted Areas
Damascus suburb province: Eastern Ghouta region
City of Zamalka:
1- The Street behind Najib gas station.
2- Al-Maqasam Al-Ali Street (communication center).
Video shows on map the places that got hit by rockets.
3- Al-Mazr’a area.
Ein Tarma city:
2- Al-Ziniya area.
Damascus suburb province: Western Ghouta region
1- Al-Rawda Street.
2- Al-Baladaiya Street.
3- Al-Zaytouna Street.
What happened on 8/21/2013 at dawn?
According to the eyewitnesses whom we interviewed, Eastern Ghouta was attacked between 2:00 and 3:00 AM on the morning of 8/21/2013 by the use of chemical weapons; rockets with poisonous warheads targeted the towns of Zamalka and Ein Tarma in Eastern Ghouta.
Muadamiyat town was attacked at 5:00 AM on the same day by chemical weapons. In addition to the previously mentioned attacks, heavy and rapid shelling on these areas followed the attack and lasted for hours. All routes leading in and out of the al-Ghouta region were blocked by Regime forces in order to prevent any attempts to raid the region and the targeted areas.
The chemical attacks caused a high number of casualties in the targeted areas. DCHRS documented 678 victims who were killed after they were subjected to poisonous and toxic gas; among them there were 627 civilians, which is roughly 92% of the total number of victims, along with the victims from the armed opposition group which numbered 51 victims.
The following table indicates the number of victims according to the DCHRS scan:
Victims of the Chemical Massacre in Damascus Suburbs
Testimonies of some of the survivors and members of the medical crew
DCHRS conducted interviews with some of the survivors and members of the medical crew at the field hospitals that admitted many victims and injured civilians after the attack. Their testimonies were as follows:
1- Um Mohammad, from Zamalka, told us that she was with her husband, two sons (six years old and two months old), and her sister’s family, a 13-year-old girl and her 24-year-old brother, at her house in Al-Itisalat Street in Zamalka town when a rocket loaded with poisonous gas struck 100 meters away from her house.
Um Mohammad said that “while we were sitting in their house along with her sister’s family the shelling on Zamalka began and we heard the sounds of explosions not far away from us. At 2:00 AM, shortly after they started to feel burning sensations in our eyes, my niece was breathing heavily. My niece’s husband carried her immediately and took her to a field hospital. We realized that we were being attacked by poisonous gas; we tried to go to the roof to breathe some air as they were instructed for safety procedures, but the heavy shelling prevented us. I woke my kids up and took them with the help of my sister and walked to the field hospital. While on the way I began to feel dizzy and couldn’t feel my legs, later I felt nauseous and passed out. When I gained consciousness, I found myself in a field hospital that was filled with people screaming and dying.“
Um Mohammad continued, saying, “My nephew who is 24 years went to his grandmother’s building, which contains 4 floors, to find everyone lying dead inside. He said there were more than 25 dead bodies inside in that building.”
2- Abu Malik is a 23-year-old from Saqba city in the Damascus suburbs. Abu-Malik says that while he was in his house along with some friends, they heard some news about Zamalka getting targeted using chemical weapons, so Abu-Malik and his friends headed towards Zamalka to assist. There were a lot of people in the streets of Saqba who had decided to go to Zamalka to give them a hand. Abu-Malik and his friend reached “Al-Maqsam Al-Ali” Street in Zamalka and went into one of the buildings, which contained four floors. On the first floor they couldn’t find anybody; they decided to knock on the doors and if there was no response, they would open the door by force and search the place for any survivors. On the second floor they entered one of the apartments to find a man and a woman who were shaking and unconscious and with some white foam coming out of their mouths. Next to them were two dead children who were no more than 4-years-old.
On the third floor they found in one of the apartments a father, mother, and their child. They then went to another apartment to find another dead family that consisted of a mother, two boys, and two girls. Their bodies were stacked in the living room — it looked like when one of them was falling, the others tried to hold him up until they all died in the same place. On the fourth floor they found nine dead bodies with their bodies lying on the stairs leading to the roof. They concluded that they died while they were trying to reach the roof.
Abu-Malik says that in that building he managed to find only two people alive, but their condition was critical, so after he finished searching the building they were placed in a car to be delivered to one of the field-hospitals.
“Afterwards we entered another building next to the first one to find 14 dead people including two no-more-than-five-year-old kids.
After we entered the second building I started to feel some burning in my eyes with headache and wet nose, yet I tried to hold myself together and continue my search, so I went out to the street to find a man crawling on his hands and feet like a little child, he was also panting and a white foam was coming out of his mouth, I tried to approach him and help him but I lost my conscious before that, when I woke up I found myself in the field-hospital and I was told I was out for about half hour.”
Abu-Malik adds that according to what he saw most of the kids were dead and most of the survivors were found in the street while all the people who couldn’t get out to the streets were dead inside their houses, or they were killed trying to get out.
3- Dr. Abu-Emad is one of the doctors working in the field hospitals in Eastern Ghouta and a member of the Unified Medical Office in Eastern Ghouta. Dr. Abu-Emad said that between 2:30 and 3:00 in the morning a lot of injured started flowing rapidly to the field hospitals. The most notable symptoms included suffocation, dyspnea, agitation, clouding consciousness, foam coming out of the mouth and nose, pinpoint pupils, slow pulse, and nervous seizures.
Dr. Abu-Emad says that the infected victims were from both genders and from all ages. He adds that in the first hour alone more than 700 deaths were recorded.
Regarding the treatment process, Dr. Abu-Emad told us that they lacked the necessary medical equipment and drugs to cure the huge number of infected, all what they could do was to inject the victim with Atropine, Hydrocortisone, and Oxygen, Dr. Abu-Emad said that after they ran out of Atropine they were forced to resort to the Atropine that is usually used for animals, but only on a small scale and for the most critical cases as a last measure.
Dr. Abu-Emad also said that the members of the medical crew (Doctors, Nursers, and Paramedics) were infected as a result of touching the victims directly due to the lack of suits or protective masks.
The most difficult decision to make was when they had to choose who to cure and who would be left to face his death given the small number of doctors and medical crew compared to the number of victims which was in thousands as Dr.Emad told us.
Dr. Abu-Emad said that they still found more dead bodies on the next day, August 22, inside their homes. Most of these victims were found dead while they were sleeping. 20 dead bodies were found in one of the last buildings checked.
4- Dr. Abu-Omar is a general practitioner who works in one of the field-hospitals in Mo’dmayat Al-Sham in Western Ghouta. Abu-Omar says “At 5:00 in the morning on Wednesday we heard sounds of explosions resulting from the shelling against the city, but the sound felt a little different than the one we used to hear before, because previously we used to hear a whistle before the explosions. After 15 minutes the victims started to flow to the field-hospitals in large numbers with the following symptoms: nervous seizures, dyspnea, pinpoint pupils, foams coming out of the mouth and nose, and loss of consciousness.
At first we undressed the patients and washed their bodies with water, before giving them Atropine, Hydrocortisone, and Oxygen injections.
Dr. Abu-Omar said that out of 1,000 victims approximately that came to the hospital, “We only managed to provide the first fifty victims with oxygen before it ran out, despite that we refused to receive any mild cases and we tried to treat the critical ones only.”
According to Dr. Abu-Omar, symptoms like eye pain, headaches, and wet noses started to appear on the medical crew after 4 hours, and two of the doctors sustained more severe symptoms like loss of consciousness.
Dr. Abu-Omar adds that the injured would come back to the hospital after they got out because they were relapsing:
After 24 hours: the victim would sustain the following symptoms: loss of consciousness, complete breakdown, and dyspnea.
After one week: dizziness, general weakness, and dyspnea.
Dariyya: a testimony by a doctor from the field-hospital regarding the use of the chemical weapons: 21/8/2013.
Damascus| initial statement from the Medical office in Jobar neighborhood about the Eastern Ghouta shelling using chemical weapons
Children suffocating in Irbeen- Damascus suburb
The Medical Situation in the Targeted areas
When we were meeting Dr. Abu-Emad in the Eastern Ghouta and Dr. Abu-Omar in Western Ghouta, DCHRS asked them about the medical situation in these areas. The doctors stated that it was pretty bad, and they are suffering a deep shortage of the basic drugs most notably the following medical equipment:
NSAIDs, relievers, central relievers, Serums, blood bags, Oxygen, Atropine, Hydrocortisone, also they need suits and protective masks from the poisonous gases and chemical substances for the medical crews given that the Syrian regime is not finished with using chemical weapons.
The two doctors assured DCHRS that occasionally some of the humanitarian and relief organizations donate some medical materials. However, the problem is creating a route to deliver the materials – even though it’s hardly enough – to the infected areas under the heavy siege that has been carried out by the government forces of these areas for about a year. This siege has prevented even medical and humanitarian aid from getting inside the neighborhood.
Who is behind the chemical attacks in Syria?
It’s dead clear that someone used internationally prohibited chemical weapons in Syria on Wednesday 21/8/2013; the question is who used these chemical weapons to kill as many civilians as possible?
We may not have definitive evidence about the party that used such weapons or the name of the person who gave the orders, but what we do have is sufficient facts that leave no doubt that the force behind these attacks was the Syrian government and its armed forces.
1- Syria has a massive amount of chemical weapons, amounting to what may be the largest stockpile in the whole Middle East.
2- All the sites in which these chemical weapons were made and stored are under the Syrian government control. To this day, the Syrian opposition has never seized any of these sites.
3- All the targeted areas were not under the control of the Syrian government; they were under the control of the Syrian opposition forces.
4- The rockets that targeted Eastern and Western Ghouta were launched from areas under the control of the Syrian government. The DCHRS team has located the direction from which the rockets were launched based on the angle at which the rockets struck the ground.
5- The chemical shelling was carried out simultaneously to heavy conventional shelling using various weapons by the Syrian regime army. This shelling lasted for hours after the chemical attack. In addition, military forces attempted to break into the targeted areas, which gives the impression that the chemical weapons were part of a bigger plan to seize the city.
6- The Syrian government forces have tightened the siege of the targeted areas, blocked all the routes, and prevented anyone from getting in or out the area. Thus there wasn’t a single ambulance from any government hospital despite the size of the massacre. Additionally, no medicine or medical aid was allowed to enter which deepened the tragedy and increased the number of victims. This suggests a policy of collective punishment against civilians in this attack.
7- The chemical attack on the morning of August 21st against Ghouta in the Damascus suburbs was not the first incident in which the chemical weapons were used. According to a report by the SNHR released on 5/8/2013, the Syrian government has carried out 28 chemical weapons attacks on a small scale and killed 83 victims in these attacks.
Therefore, we in the DCHRS have no doubt that the Syrian government is the one behind the chemical attacks carried out on Wednesday 21/8/2013 at dawn.
The DCHRS condemns and denounces these brutal attacks in which, under the convention of 1993, internationally prohibited chemical weapons were used. Thus we demand that:
1- The Syrian government stop all military operations, including shelling and targeting Eastern Ghouta, and put an end to the siege of the area, and to allow the organizations, medical and humanitarian crews to enter the area to provide immediate assistance.
2-The UN Security Council secure protection for the Syrian civilians through a resolution based on chapter VII, to expand the mandate of the international committee, which was deployed to investigate the using of chemical weapons, to cover the whole Syrian region, to identify the perpetrator behind these crimes, and to issue a resolution to base the operation of the international committee on Chapter VII.
3- Local and international aid organizations consider the humanitarian, medical, and relief needs of the people of the targeted area and provide aid as soon as possible.
The Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies renews its demand to apply the Responsibility to Protect doctrine as supported in the United Nations in 2005. The DCHRS also, as a member of the International Coalition of Responsibility to Protect, demands that the international community uphold these duties to protect the civilians and provide the necessary humanitarian relief and medical aid in order to ease the pain of the Syrian civilians both inside Syrian and abroad. Lastly the international community must perpetrate those who are responsible for these war crimes and crimes against humanity and hold them accountable for these actions.
Damascus Center from Human Rights Studies
For more information, please contact
Dr. Radwan Ziadeh, Executive director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies.
Phone (571) 205-3590
Emile radwan.ziadeh @ gmail.com
Dr. Abdul Qadir Rageh, Office field manager.
DCHRS is an independent, non-governmental organization, established in 2005, located in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Its mission is to foster a spirit of support and respect for the values and standards of human rights in Syria. As such, DCHRS recognizes and adheres to all pertinent international human rights agreements and declarations issued by the UN.
- DCHRS is a member of the following international networks:
- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
- Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)
- NGO Coalition for the international Criminal Court
- International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP)
- International Coalition of Sites of Conscience
DCHRS worked on a variety of documentation projects. Such projects included daily casualty reports, massacre reports, and other human rights violations reports. Also DCHRS has been working on advocacy and lobbying in different human rights institutions in order to educate and acknowledge about the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria. DCHRS opened local offices in Syria in order to document, collect, and observe human rights violations on the ground. After the launch of the Syrian revolution, the center increased its activities through working, communicating, and coordinating with many members and activists. Thus the center began documenting daily violations committed by the Syrian regime forces that can be classified as crimes against humanities and war crimes. Such violations included: extrajudicial killings, massacres, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, rape, torture in prisons. DCHRS submitted those reports to many international and regional human rights organizations and communicated with the Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic on Syria.