OPCW Reported No Nerve Agents Found in Syria, But Chlorine Present
On July 6, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) released a preliminary report on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma, Syria last April that killed 78 civilians. The report stated that no nerve agents were found in their samples, but various chlorinated organic chemicals were found.
The alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Douma resulted in joint military strikes from the U.S. and Europe. However, whether Assad used chemical weapons has been a point of debate. Assad and his allies say no chemical weapons were used and videos depicting survivors of an alleged attack were fake.
No Nerve Agents in OPCW Report
The OPCW was called into Douma to investigate whether chemical weapons were in fact used in Syria by Assad. In the preliminary report just released by the OPCW, they stated there was no evidence of nerve gas used.
“No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected in the environmental samples or in the plasma samples taken from alleged casualties,” the report described.
The report contradicts the White House report released just a few days after the attack. The five-page document said that nerve agent sarin was used in Douma.
“A significant body of information points to the regime using chlorine in its bombardment of Duma, while some additional information points to the regime also using the nerve agent sarin,” The White House file stated.
Washington and the West have repeatedly accused Damascus administration under President Bashar Al-Assad of using nerve agents in the Douma attack.
Chlorinated Chemicals Found
While nerve agents were not discovered, the report did say, “Along with explosive residues, various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from two sites.” Indicating it’s possible chlorine may have been used as some sort of a weapon.
In reporting on the OPCW’s finding mainstream media latched onto the organic chlorinated chemicals finding, but it’s unclear what that finding means. Reuters ran the headline, “Chemical weapons agency finds ‘chlorinated’ chemicals in Syria’s Douma” and other mainstream media sites all ran with similar announcements that chlorine was found.
The OPCW reported it was still working to establish the significance of the chlorine finding. Prior to the OPCW report, there were widespread accusations Assad had used sarin or a similar gas in Douma.
During the Douma visit after the attack, the chemical weapon’s watchdog team interviewed several witnesses and took samples that were sent separately to the Netherlands laboratory and then passed on for testing to the organization’s affiliated labs.
What Happened in Douma?
What actually happened in Douma on the alleged day of the gas attack remains up for debate. The accusations that chemical weapons were used that day largely come from the Syrian White Helmets and the Syrian American Medical Society. The White Helmets have alleged ties to terrorist organizations in Syria, and both organizations are funded by the U.S.
Much of the evidence for the alleged chemical weapons attack comes from a video distributed by the White Helmets that supposedly shows victims of the chemical weapons as they are being attended to in a Syrian medical center.
However, independent reporters have gone to Douma and spoken with doctors there who told them on that day suddenly a group of people came rushing into their hospital claiming there was a gas attack while filming the ensuing chaos.
One doctor told Robert Fisk, an internationally acclaimed and award-winning reporter:
“There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a ‘White Helmet’, shouted ‘Gas!’, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”
Is the OPCW report short on details and biased?
Russia responded to the latest report by saying it had studied the OPCW’s findings and cast doubt over the transparency in the process of making the report.
“We have studied the preliminary report on the investigation of the relatively high-profile incident, which took place in Syria’s Douma on April 7. And we have a number of questions to its authors,” said Russian Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Georgy Kalamanov as reported by TASS.
The deputy minister said that while the OPCW investigations were short on transparency, they also violated procedures on evidence gathering.
Kalamanov called out the report for failing to mention the retaliatory Western-backed attack that launched just a week after the Douma strike as it could have tainted the organization’s investigation. The OPCW’s team arrived in Douma on April 14 and the Western countries launched an attack just a few hours before the team’s arrival.
Russia also said the OPCW report did not mention the briefing at OPCW headquarters on April 26, where some people said they witnessed the making of a fake video by the Western-supported propaganda group White Helmets.
Military specialists from Russia visited Douma and took samples of their own on April 9. They concluded there were no symptoms of exposure to chlorine nor sarin.
Who is responsible for the chemical attack?
That is the trickiest questions. Both The West and Damascus have accused each other of using poisonous substances to kill innocent Syrians. In early February, the Pentagon chief James Mattis admitted that the U.S. had no evidence Syria was using chemical weapons. However, that statement garnered relatively little media exposure.
Despite the growing tension between western nations and Syria and its allies, including Iran and Russia, Assad appears to be winning the war. In an apparent sign of confidence, just over a week ago the Syrian government made it’s first official appeal for Syrian refugees to come back home.