One year ago, a chemical attack allegedly carried out by the Syrian government on the embattled nation’s Douma district left at least 43 people dead. Two years ago, more than 100 – mostly women and children – perished in another apparently government-helmed chemical onslaught in Idlib’s Khan Sheikhoun district.
On both occasions, President Trump ordered retaliatory missile attacks to take out the regime’s remaining stockpiles as haunting images filled the internet of babies foaming at the mouth, and tiny children choking as their moms and dads wailed as their eyes burned and burned.
That was just the tip of the mounting rubble pile as Syria’s eight-year war inches closer to its swansong. Nonetheless, President Bashar al-Assad looks set to take back Syria, undeterred or impacted by the rash of chemical violations of civilians.
“There will probably be no further accountability of Syria for its past chemical attacks beyond the damage done after the U.S. missile attacks,” Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Senior Science Fellow, John Gilbert, told Fox News. “Russia is a major sponsor of the Assad government and a Russian national provided nerve agent technology and possibly critical precursor chemicals to Syria.”
Gilbert added that “Russia and China vetoed UN Security Council resolutions against Syria for their chemical weapons attacks, "and prevented extension of the UN's investigative mechanism that could have provided evidence of who was behind the attacks.”
According to the most recent “credibly substantiated” data gleaned by the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI), chemical weapons have been used at least 336 times since the war started in early 2011. The Syrian regime – led by Bashar al-Assad – stands accused of using the banned substances 98 percent of the time, while ISIS is documented as having carried out two percent of the country’s chemical bombardments on civilians.
In August 2013, more than 1400 civilians were slaughtered in the first known mass chemical attack amid the protracted war, and after the Obama administration’s failure to act on the crossing of a “red line,” the issue was handed over to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
They demanded the Syrian leadership eradicate all chemical inventory, and by August 2014 they announced the process complete.
Only it was not. The GPPI study surmised that more than 90 percent of chemical offensives on Syrian soil took place after the hollow red line declaration.
“The Assad regime did not merely ‘get away’ with its use of these banned weapons,” the report stated. “It succeeded in using them for strategic ends.”
Last month, OPCW concluded that it had “reasonable grounds” to assume that “the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place” in the beleaguered Douma last April. Although their “fact-finding mission” in the immediate aftermath was delayed until almost a week after arrival due to security concerns, OPCW finally pinpointed chlorine last month as the likely culprit, rather than a more lethal substance such as sarin or other nerve agents. It declined to assign responsibility.
“The symptoms were confusing, and doctors at the beginning thought it was a phosphorus compound but within hours they knew they were dealing with chlorine,” recalled Dr. Mohamad Katoub, media and advocacy leader at the Syrian American Medical Society's (SAMS) Turkey office. “Respiratory distress, oral foaming, corneal burns.”
The GPPI report found that roughly 91.5 percent of the chemical attacks in Syria have been chlorine bombs.
But according to the Arms Control Association, everything from nerve agents and choking agents, to “weaponized chlorine and blister agents have been used in Syria over the course of the civil war.”
All chemical weapons, irrespective of their severity, are internationally outlawed.
Fox News interviewed several survivors of the various attacks. One victim from the initial 2013 Ghouta attack who was exposed to the ailments said she gave birth several months later to a baby “with a distorted hand,” but doctors could not say conclusively whether it was due to the chemicals. Others claimed lingering shortness of breath and perpetual exhaustion, but almost all said the most searing scars were psychological.
“Some still aren’t breathing well, their tears flow in a rush,” said Hisham al-Skeif, a potent Syrian activist whose baby son was asphyxiated in an attack. “Some have an inability to move. And the numbers are large.”
Investigators for the Syrian Network for Human Rights told Fox News that in terms of long-term symptoms, they have recorded “shortness of breath, blurred vision and disorientation leading to inability to distinguish time and space among some of those injured in the attacks in Ghouta in August 2013, with these symptoms continuing for several weeks after the attack.”
Moreover, in the large-scale chemical attacks such as the attack on those in Ghouta, the attack on Khan Sheikhoun, and in the last Douma attack, the Syrian Network for Human Rights documented effects on the soil in the area around the missiles’ impact sites with plants being destroyed, as well as recording the deaths of a large number of animals.
The activist group estimates that almost 10,000 people have been injured in the chemical attacks – some 9,753 in attacks ignited by the Syrian regime and a further 132 launched by ISIS.
Yet the Syrian government has staunchly and repeatedly denied ever having used chemical weapons, and its top supporter, Russia, has instead blamed rescue workers such as the White Helmets for staging the chemical incursions and proliferating fake news.
In turn, the U.S. has pointed the finger at Russia for contriving its own narrative about the Syrian rebels.
Yet activists and rescue workers like The Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, haven’t given up the quest for accountability.
“As eyewitnesses, we are still calling out the international community to take immediate action against those responsible,” a spokesperson said. “What needs to happen is crystal clear; the permanent members of the security council need to stand up against Russia, who is holding justice hostage for its own political gain.”
Many still accuse of the Syrian government of stockpiling and manufacturing even more weapons in its array of “undeclared sites.”
“This is also to disrupt the work of inspectors of the OPCW,” the Syrian Civil Defense representative asserted.
The Syrian conflict has displaced more than ten million Syrians and claimed the lives of more than half a million. What’s worse, it may not be the end of large-scale attacks – including those chemical in nature. In a joint statement last week, the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain and France cautioned that they will “act strongly and swiftly” in the circumstance of another attack, especially as Syrian troops – backed by Iran and Russia – edge closer in their plans to take back the final opposition bastion of Idlib.
“We have prepared 20 facilities with protection gears and treatment equipment. Our staff received some training,” noted Katoub. “In Syria, there are no red lines. Again, this might happen.”