Douma, Syria. On April 7th 2018, the city of Douma was shaken by a series of explosions on residential buildings. These attacks were done by helicopters that dropped barrels containing chlorine gas and left; but not without the untold damages being uncovered. The attack resulted in over 42 deaths and hundreds of injuries with the vast majority being sick and being affected by nerve agents in the chemicals. Entire families in many of these apartment buildings were seen huddled together; dead. Groups such as the White Helmets, a paramedic group that investigated the casualties, have accused the Syrian government as being the actual perpetrators, or at least their allies to Syria’s President Bashar al-assad. Internationally, countries such as the United States and Great Britain have accused not only the Syrian government but also the Russian Federation as both being involved and did so in an effort to combat against the rebel forces in the city. These claims were considered to be unfounded as the actual helicopters were still not connected with the government. However, the mystery and the attack surrounding the city of Douma have been, somewhat, solved.
Beginning of the Syrian Civil War (2011- Present)
These series of events where the government of al-Assad is combating different rebel forces extend back to the Arab Spring in 2011 where the whole Middle Eastern and North African worlds were shaken up by a movement of liberation. Many felt strong animosity towards their governments as being unreceptive, authoritative, and corrupt and desired changes towards a more democratic and free society. As a result, many nations including Tunisia experienced significant overhauls in their governmental and political institutions; others such as Syria are still gripping with the impacts of the Arab Spring movement which have lasted for more than ten years. This impact mainly concerns the al-Assad government’s effort to combat and eradicate any traces of oppositional or revolutionary forces in the country, many with the support of international governments the aforementioned United States and Great Britain. Many of these forces have organized, splintered, and dissolved; but others still remain in some capacity and are seen through their local efforts in overtaking many cities throughout Syria.
Enter Douma, a neighboring city to Syria’s capital Damascus, and has been taken over by various rebel forces; all who intend on, despite their differences, removing the Assad regime. The most prominent being Jaysh al-Islam who mainly operates in the city and the general Damascus surroundings. However, the rebel controlled city subjected to these aerial strikes saw the subsequent removal of these forces, further making the Syrian government itself a prime suspect in these attacks.
Attack on Khan Shaykhun (2017)
Unfortunately, this type of attack was not the first one of its kind against citizens in the use of Chemical Weapons onto them, but in the country of Syria itself. Almost one year before the attack in the city of Douma, the town of Khan Shaykun was also hit with an airstrike, with many civilians also being killed. The chemical that was used in this event was Sarin, according to the samples collected from autopsy reports, which is considered to be an odorless, colorless, and tasteless substance that serves as a nerve agent in being able to disrupt the nerves in the body and cause spasms in the heart and muscles as well as asphyxiation.
The airstrike occurred in the middle of the afternoon on the 4th and struck another residential center that caused more than 90 deaths and over 500 injuries. Among the victims are all Men, Women, and Children who have been poisoned and taken to various hospitals while being in a state of critical condition. It is considered to be the most deadly airstrike that the country of Syria has experienced in its ongoing Civil War.
In the city of Deir ez-Zur, the airstrike also impacted this region and caused its own wave of unfortunate suffering and deaths. We at RaiseTheVoices spoke to a witness as to the events and the deadly use of Sarin gas that devastated their area. For the purposes of anonymity, their identities will not be revealed. They describe the events as devastating in the general area and to the many including families and children that perished; but also atrocious that the government engaged and was complicit in the events.
After this event, international condemnation and anger persisted as countries like the United States and France accused President al-Assad as being responsible for the attacks and for the RUssian government in being complicit and doing it to serve the interests of its ally. Furthermore, the United States claimed that the Russian Federation conducted a disinformation campaign in an effort to be absolved of any involvement. The two nations responded that the airstrikes were done by terrorists and that these terrorists were given the necessary supplies to conduct such a destructive attack by the Western powers. In either case, the nation is still reeling for these, and other subsequent attacks which many attribute to the Assad regime in an effort to combat rebel forces, while also targeting civilians.
2023 Report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an international organization that is in charge of implementing and enforcing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in restricting of the use and production of Chemical Weapons on an international level, announced on January 27th the conclusion of their (along with the Identification department within the OPCW) investigation conducted into the events of early 2018. The OPCW concluded that the result of the attacks were the Syrian government; more specifically, its Air Force. The investigation looked into the chemical traces left behind in the attacks, statements from over 60 witnesses, and other forms of forensic evidence that tied the Syrian government as the body responsible. In particular, the helicopters themselves, concluded the Investigation department, belonged to an elite division of the Air Force. The investigation began from January 2021 to December 2022.
The conclusion reached from the report resulted in international outcry and rage over the Assad government. In particular, officials from the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom released a joint statement condemning the Assad government and demand for the government itself to comply with the ordinances from the OPCW and the United Nations’ resolution on chemical weapons including the destruction of and proper disposal of chemical weapons.
What the Joint Statement also discusses is the role that Russia had in helping to facilitate the attack in 2018. In here, the Joint Statement cites the OPCW’s report and how Russia itself was being complicit by allowing the Syrian Air Force to use a jointly owned airspace along with the Russian Aerospace Defence Force. There was also controversy surrounding how the Russian forces itself appear to have been complicit in obstructing the OPCW’s investigation through attempting to clear the destruction site as a means to clear an potential incriminating evidence which involved the process of sanitizing the site and the dissemination of information online to alter the events from the attack.
As of now, the Syrian and Russian governments have not responded to reports of the events in 2018 and it is unlikely as to when they may.
- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Syrian Civil War”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Jan. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/event/Syrian-Civil-War. Accessed 1 February 2023.
- Abdulrahim, Raja. “Dozens Killed in Alleged Chemical-Weapons Attack in Syria.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 10 Mar. 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/dozens-killed-in-alleged-chemical-weapons-attack-in-syria-1523172611.
- Malsin, Jared. “Assad Regime Carried out 2018 Chlorine Attack in Syria, Investigators Say.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 27 Jan. 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/assad-regime-carried-out-2018-chlorine-attack-in-syria-investigators-say-11674835088.
- “Deal Reached to Surrender Last Rebel-Held Town in Eastern Ghouta.” News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 8 Apr. 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/4/8/deal-reached-to-surrender-last-rebel-held-town-in-eastern-ghouta.
- https://www.opcw.org/media-centre/news/2023/01/opcw-releases-third-report-investigation-and-identification team#:~:text=The%20Hague%2C%20Netherlands%E2%80%9427%20January,in%20Douma%2C%20Syrian%20Arab%20Republic.
- “Syria Chemical ‘Attack’: What We Know.” BBC News, BBC, 26 Apr. 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-39500947