Monday 21 January 2019

Suspected chemical attack halts aid convoy for Ghouta

Wounded Syrians await treatment at a clinic in Hamouria, in Eastern Ghouta. Photo: Abdullah Hammam/AFP/Getty Images
Wounded Syrians await treatment at a clinic in Hamouria, in Eastern Ghouta. Photo: Abdullah Hammam/AFP/Getty Images

Sara Elizabeth Williams

An aid convoy scheduled to enter the opposition-controlled suburbs of Damascus was delayed amid concerns that Eastern Ghouta had been hit with chemical weapons.

Doctors inside Eastern Ghouta, which has been pummelled by airstrikes as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad moves to crush the last remaining rebel stronghold close to the capital, shared photographs and videos of children and adults gasping for air, apparently suffering from the affects of a chlorine attack.

"I have more than 14 children with chlorine exposure," said Dr Hamza Hassan, a physician operating from a hospital in Saqba, one of the densely populated neighbourhoods that is still under rebel control.

"They present with wheezing, hypoxia and cough.

"One has blurred vision because of the cornea irritation by chlorine.

"The staff are getting overwhelmed with chlorine odour in the emergency room, which is getting very strong."


The Syrian American Medical Society (Sams), which supports medical facilities in the besieged suburb and across Syria, corroborated doctors' findings that patients were indeed suffering the effects of a chemical attack.

"Due to chlorine attack in East Ghouta, patients are struggling w/symptoms such as severe dyspnea, sweating, congestion of mucus membranes, severe runny nose, wheezing & conjunctival erythema," Sams wrote on social media.

"The emotional trauma from these attacks cannot be measured."

Syrian government forces intensified their offensive on Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday night, after seizing more than half the area as ground forces moved in.

Eastern Ghouta is nearly split in two, much as Aleppo was during President al-Assad's ferocious battle to bring opposition groups there to heel.

Military gains have caused wide-scale internal displacement as civilians flee government advances.

As in Aleppo, those areas of Eastern Ghouta not yet under government control are under ever more ferocious aerial attack.

Food and medical supplies are critically scarce.

After the delay in aid yesterday, Ingy Sedky, the International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman in Syria, said she had no confirmation when the next delivery would be taking place.

"The situation is evolving rapidly on the ground, which doesn't allow us to carry out the operation in such conditions," she said.

Earlier this week, the first convoy in weeks made it into the town of Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, but 14 of the 46 trucks were not able to fully offload the critical humanitarian supplies because of the ongoing conflict.

The current offensive on Eastern Ghouta started on Sunday, February 18.

Russia's military has said that it is playing a key role supporting the assault to combat "terrorists" who are hiding in the area and threatening Damascus.

But according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the death toll in the operation now includes at least 800 civilians, many of them children.

Aid workers who entered the area briefly on Monday described a desperate situation.

Civilians are not safe any-where in Eastern Ghouta, and some residents had not seen sunlight for two weeks because they were sheltering underground.

Activists and medics say that they have worn their voices hoarse calling for the international community to come to the aid of civilians in Eastern Ghouta.

Less than a month ago, French President Emmanuel Macron promised that "France will strike" if chemical weapons are used against civilians in the Syrian conflict in violation of international treaties, but that he would need to see proof. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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