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For the Third Time This Year, Chlorine is Used as a Chemical Weapon in Douma, Damascus

February 1, 2018

By Eliot Higgins

Translations: Русский

As international concerns grow about Syria’s use of chemical weapons, new evidence of the Syrian military’s chemical weapon use continues to emerge from Syria. On the morning of February 1 2018, local activists reported the use of chemical rockets filled with chlorine against opposition held territory in the west of Douma, Damascus:

This represents the 3rd chemical attack reported in Douma since the start of 2018, with two earlier attacks on January 13, and January 22. While munitions are not known to have been recovered from the January 13 attack, munitions used in the January 22 attack were recovered and documented, as were munitions used in the February 1 attack. The design of the munitions recovered in both attacks are identical, and match a design of munition used in a January 30 2017 chlorine attack in Marj al-Sultan, around 8km southeast of Douma.

Chemical rockets used on January 30 2017 in Marj al-Sultan (source)

Chemical rocket used on January 22 2018 in Douma, Damascus (source)

Chemical rockets used on February 1 2018 in Douma, Damascus (source)

The rockets are based on modified Iranian 107mm artillery rockets, with the explosive warhead replaced by a large gas cylinder, and additional tail fins added to the rocket. In all three attacks the design of the rockets are identical, and in some cases rockets from the 2018 attacks share the same lot numbers, indicating they are from the same manufacturing batch. This strongly indicates that the rockets used in the 2018 attacks would have originated from the same source:

Top – Rocket markings from January 22 2018 (source); Bottom – Rocket markings from February 1 2018 (source)

Using videos posted by Firas Abdullah on the day of the attack it is possible to geolocate the impact sites of three of the rockets used in the February 1 attack to farmlands on the west side of Douma. The warhead of a fourth rocket was photographed but not geolocated. The impact sites are less than 200m west from the only January 22 impact site it was possible to geolocate:

Geolocated impact sites from the 2018 chemical attacks (location)

Multiple organisations and individuals have tracked the progress of fighting in the area on a regular basis, showing little movement in the front lines closest to the locations attacked, despite a recent attempt by government forces to capture the area. A map from pro-government “war correspondent, photographer and war map designer” Maxim Mansour posted on January 12 2018, the day before the January 13 chemical attack, shows government forces attacking the area:

Maps from the pro-government South Front website dated January 18 and January 29 show similar front line positions, with no change between the two dates. Maps from the pro-opposition FSA News also show the same front lines during that period, as does the conflict mapping website LiveUAMap. With this agreement among multiple sources about the position of front line positions the closest government positions to the impact sites would be 400-600m away.

It is also possible to establish the likely trajectory of rockets used in the February 1 attack. In one geolocated video, Firas Abdullah films the impact crater of one of the rockets:

The shape of this crater indicates the rocket would have come from the west, from the direction of the Syrian government positions around 1km away. In another video, we see an impact site where the warhead of the chemical munition is still embedded in the ground:

Based on the height of the north-south wall, and how close the warhead is to the wall, it would be extremely unlikely the munition could have come from the east, again indicating the munition would have come from government positions in the west. Further to the west, the 41st Regiment military base can be found 2km away from the impact sites.

SAMS-USA reported that “a SAMS-supported hospital in East Ghouta received 3 patients suffering from suffocation, a dry cough, and vomiting, all of which are consistent w/ the use of chlorine gas. Victims include 2 women & a 16-year-old.”. Ghouta Media Center reported that one civil defence member was injured in the attack. Local reports state the chlorine attack was then followed by a day of heavy shelling in Douma, resulting in the death of two children and multiple injuries.

The research for this publication was supported by PAX for Peace.

 

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

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22 Comments

  1. Dirk

    Grozny, Aleppo, Debaltseve, Mariupol will all be on the KGB kleptomaniac’s resume when his day in the Hague arrives. Hopefully sooner than later………

    Reply
  2. Germann Arlington

    Hello Eliot,

    Every time I read your reports I keep wondering – why are the chemical weapons munitions always so badly rusted?
    Is this a result of a chemical process that happens after the munition explodes?

    The same question applies to your earlier reports about Sarin attacks in April 2017.

    Reply
  3. Ruth

    Hello Eliot
    I have the same question as Germann Arlington: why are parts of the chemical weapons munitions so badly rusted?
    I have a friend who works in the metalworking industry and he doubts that the photos are genuine because of the rust.
    I myself trust Firas completely… Thank you for your answer
    ruth

    Reply
    • Andrea

      As said above, when Chlorine mixes with water HCl (Hydrochloric Acid)…
      That’s is both the reason it can rust metal… and more worryingly it creates HCl in your LUNGS !!

      Reply
      • Andrea

        PS: obviously wether it is coated/painted/uncoated, carbon/stainless steel makes a difference…

        Reply
    • woody

      But of course this makes sense – no infantry operation after firing the minution – 1 000 meters in city conditions means that the army stands to gain nothing as it will take weeks to get to the impact place by infantry.

      Its like the Deir Ezzor in 2016 when “The righteous coalition” by accident bombed SAA troops – and at the very same moment ISIS attacked. Thats a coincidence, but a Bellingcat Chlorine ammunition on a position that yields nothing – is purposeful? Just when are you going to open your eyes?

      Reply
  4. American Patriot

    The balance of power is now more than ever tilted in regime favor. There’s no reward worth risking an escalation by the west.. unless you’re the desperate rebels. Ever read Thomas L Friedman’s ‘Beirut to Jerusalem’, Eliot? It’s absurd how amorphous civil wars become in their late stages.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      West didn’t escalate the conflict for years despite all i did, why should it start now?
      I bet this is what goes in Assad head…
      At Kahn Sheikhun things just sled out of control and the results went on worldwide news…

      PS: This attack totally makes sense: fire chlorine on enemy frontlines, force them to retreat and thus allow your soldiers to cross a relatively open area (orchards) that otherwise would be a massacre…

      Reply
      • Helge

        Did the Syrian army attack after the gas attack? Did they gain ground? Did they use gas masks during their advances?
        Just wondering.

        Reply
      • Pat

        No, this attack totally not makes a sense. It would have to be much more than these 4 small ‘canisters’ chlorine in order to storm this position by infantry from a 1000 m distance. they would have to use a much bigger suppressive fire.

        Reply
        • kraaiiii

          The use of chlorine makes indeed no sense at all the distance of 600 meter is something in this war that would take days if no weeks to conquer or even to get close too.
          The vids clear shows theirs no entrenchment or underground structures or front-line only open fields, the tactical benefit (there is none) of the chlorine would be lost within hours or even minutes.

          the orchards field is something not even on the interest of the SAA too open space, the can’t hold it long enough to dig in.

          Reply
      • Woody

        So the use cw, in this case two projectiles, showcases that Assad is behind it?
        Use of mortars is based on the idea that you stand to gain something, meaning you see your enemy. Mortars allow for indirect carpeting, busted there was no enemy troops. Nor were there casualties. Why are you dealing with this Kind of bogus propaganda?

        Reply
        • Kimberly Jones

          The purpose of Assad’s attacks using the Chlorine Gas are to terrorize. He does this over and over. Occasionally someone gets killed, but generally people are left with difficulty breathing. Mothers watch their children have problems breathing. Elderly can’t breath. It is a game of horrible terror. He will keep it up, similar to the bombings, until someone makes him stop. He doesn’t care about the people, about how bad it looks, even if it makes no sense.

          Regarding why the containers are so rusted, my supposition is that they are stored poorly before they are used. Again, why should he spend a lot of money taking care of them. He is only going to fill them and drop them on “terrorists.” Maybe some will work, others won’t. Even if only a few work, his job is accomplished — he terrorized.

          Reply
          • Germann Arlington

            “The purpose of Assad’s attacks using the Chlorine Gas are to terrorize.”
            I thought that Assad was using barrel bombs to d that – cheap, effective and consequence-free.

            “He doesn’t care about the people, about how bad it looks, even if it makes no sense.”
            The barrel bombs methods is better even in this case.
            Oddly enough there are many reports from Syria an from Syrian people that Assad is not as brutal as it is presented in the “mainstream media” and by the “moderate rebels” and seem to care about Syrians too. But of course some would claim that these Syrians say that because evil Assad will kill their families if they won’t.

            “Regarding why the containers are so rusted, my supposition is that they are stored poorly before they are used. ”
            You will want to take care of the containers with CW, you don’t want them rusting through and CW leaking out.

          • DDTea

            After hundreds of chlorine attacks in Syria, including 3 in this month alone, it’s obvious that chlorine is a consequence-free weapon as well.

  5. Bob

    I dunno…it wouldn’t be hard for a trio of rebels to go West by 1km into “Syrian government positions” and launch a rocket. Not enough conclusive photo evidence…the holes could have been dug with a shovel.

    Reply
    • kraaiiii

      1 km could be a lot less it’s depends on the elevation in which you fire the projectiles. with a high enough elevation in theory is even possible to hit you self

      Reply
    • DDTea

      Easy to advance 1km in eastern damascus? Bahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…..

      You don’t follow the war too closely, do you?

      Reply
  6. Ruth

    I believe it is not about the regime wanting to attack or get closer. It is all about ASSad’s policy of telling the fighters AND the civilians “kneel or die” and this they do with constant bombing of EVERYONE and with EVERYTHING including Putin’s help. ASSad has #Ghouta besieged since 2013 and kids and their parents are starved to death and denied medicine. There are 400’000 people besieged in #Ghouta… if they were all fighters, don’t you think they would have been able to open up at least a corridor for food and medicine to get in?

    Reply

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