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More Details of the January 22nd 2018 Chlorine Attack in Douma, Damascus

February 5, 2018

By Eliot Higgins

Translations: Русский

The following report was created in partnership with Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ). The Arabic version of this report can be found here.

Image shows remnants of one of the rockets filled with a a chemical agent, reportedly chlorine, that fell on Douma on January 22, 2018 (Photo credit: STJ)

Preface

Syrian regular forces continued their military escalation in several towns and cities in the besieged Eastern Ghouta, as they launched the most violent military attacks on those areas using several types of weapons. On Monday morning, January 22, 2018, the residential neighbourhoods in the northwest region of Douma were subjected to an attack with a chemical agent described as chlorine gas by locals, and according to many testimonies obtained by Syrians for the Truth and Justice(STJ), several rockets loaded with chemicals believed to be chlorine gas fell in those neighbourhoods, suffocating 21 civilians including women and children.

The attack came in the context of the military campaign launched by the Syrian regular forces on whole cities and towns in Eastern Ghouta on November 15, 2017, following Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya announced the battle “They Were Wronged” that began in three phases. The first phase began on November 14, 2017, when the fighting resulted in killing several soldiers of the Syrian regular troops, as well as Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya controlled large sections of the Military Vehicles Management in Harasta. The second phase began on December 29, 2017, when fighting led Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya to impose a siege on the Military Vehicles Management as well as controlling “al-Ajami neighbourhood” and the automated bakery in addition to al-Hadaeq neighbourhood that stretches along the road between Harasta and Arbin from the west side of the Military Vehicles Management. The third phase began on January 28, 2018, when Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya detonated a tunnel for the regular forces within the Military Vehicles Management in Harasta, killing and injuring a number of the Syrian regular forces.

It is noteworthy that this attack was the second chemical attack on Eastern Ghouta since the beginning of 2018. On January 13, 2018, the area between both Harasta and Douma was also shelled with poisonous gases, injuring six civilians, including women and children, according to a report prepared earlier by STJ.

Details of the Incident

Nu’man Slick, who hails from Douma and who was near the strike location, spoke to STJ, saying:

“Given the intensity of the shelling on Douma, we took the cellars and shelters as our homes, as we no longer left them unless to serve our necessary needs. Once, while my family and I were in the vault, exactly at 5:30 am, I smelled a strange smell that seemed like chlorine that we use in houses; and instantly I rushed to awaken my children and I took them to a double-locked room.  After that, I began to scream in order to awaken the people, and only minutes later, people started to run in every direction. There had been children who felt unconscious and were unable to breathe well; I tried to help them along with some people nearby as we put wet fabrics on their faces.”

In another testimony, Mohammed Oyoun, a doctor from Damascus Countryside Specialty Hospital, said that the hospital began to receive suffocation cases at around 5:45 am and there was about 21 cases of suffocation, with symptoms similar to those of toxic chlorine gas::

“The hospitals received 21 suffocation cases, including 8 men, 6 women and 7 children, with a child who is less than three months. The injured showed the following symptoms: dyspnea, a cough and a neurological irritation, in addition, their clothes smelled of chlorine. We were able to cure most of the cases through the spray with oxygen and bronchodilators. Many cases were directly cured, whereas many remained under surveillance for 24 hours; thank God, no casualties were recorded because the concentration of chlorine substance was not so great in the rockets pounded by the regime as I believe, in addition that the sunrise had softened many of the infected numbers because the sunrise had dissipated the poisonous gas.”

Videos filmed after the attack at a local hospital show many of the victims receiving treatment, including 7 children, and 7 adult males, consistent with reports from the Damascus Countryside Speciality Hospital.

Image shows some of the child victims of the on Douma on January 22, 2018 (Photo credit: Activists from Douma)

On January 22, 2018, the Directorate of Health in Damascus and its countryside issued a statement talking about the shelling of Douma with rockets loaded with poisonous gases, which caused suffocation among civilians. It also indicated that it was not the first time that densely populated areas in Douma are subjected to suffocation cases due to exposure to toxic gases, because the city had already been subjected to a similar attack on January13, 2018.

Image shows the statement issued by the Directorate of Health in Damascus and its countryside on January 22, 2018 (Photo credit: the Directorate of Health in Damascus and its countryside)

On the same day, the local council of the city of Douma condemned the attack against populated areas and stressed that the city had been subjected to a similar attack nine days earlier. The statement appealed to international organizations to assume their responsibilities in protecting civilians.

Image of the statement issued by the Local Council of Douma on January 22, 2018 (Photo credit: The Local Council of Douma)

Mohammed Al-Shami, alias, an armed Syrian opposition member who was near the strike location, spoke to STJ, saying:

“The north-west area within the stadium located in Douma, along with al-Manfoush neighbourhood had been targeted with 9 rockets loaded with poisonous gases. Sound of the rocket launch and the way it fell indicated that it was a Katyusha rocket, which was a Russian-made propellant charge that the regime had modified by supplying it with a homemade cylinder and the head was fitted with homemade detonators, leaking poisonous gas immediately after hitting the ground. It should be mentioned that five rockets had fallen directly on residential areas, whereas the four left had fallen in the agricultural areas adjacent to Douma.”

Image shows remnants of one of the rockets loaded with a chemical agent used in Douma on January 22, 2018.
(Photo credit: STJ)

Another image shows several modified rockets that had been used in the January 22 chemical attack, 2018 (Photo credit: STJ)

The munitions used in the attack were modified Iranian 107mm artillery rockets, with the explosive warhead replaced with a larger pressurized gas cylinder. Additional tail fins have been added to the rocket to provide additional stability.

Jamal al-Hasan, an activist from Douma who was the first one to reach the impact site, told STJ that one of the rockets loaded with poisonous gases was found embedded in the dirt, and 15 m from its strike location, another rocket was found fallen on a house. The rocket described as found fallen on a house may refer to one rocket it was possible to geolocate, featured in several photographs:

One of the munitions used photographed on the roof of a building (Photo credit: Media activist from Douma (During an interview with STJ’s reporter))

The same munition as above, moved to the ground (Photo: Media activist from Douma (During an interview with STJ’s reporter))

The location the photograph on the roof was taken is 33.572149, 36.387439, on the roof a one storey structure running west to east on the north side of a larger apartment building. In addition to the geolocation of the photographs, the location was also confirmed by locals who took photographs of the munition.

The location of the rocket photographed on the rooftop (Photo credit: Google Earth/Digital Globe)

Jamal al-Hasan noted that the rocket was carrying a white material similar to ice on its surface. In this regard, he continued:

“With the onset of the sunrise, this white material began to fade gradually, and once I attempted to touch it, it was very fragile, which caused me a severe headache lasted until the evening. Even the animals have not been spared the effect of this poisonous gas, as I saw a dead cat near the impact site.”

A photograph published by Bassam Khabieh on Facebook on January 22nd showing a dead cat close to one of the impact sites (Photo credit : Bassam Khabieh)

A photograph published by Bassam Khabieh on Facebook on January 22nd showing the munitions used with frost on the warhead (Photo credit: Bassam Khabieh)

The white material described by Jamal al-Hasan is likely frost formed as the pressurized gas cylinder depressurized rapidly. Analysis of images of the munitions provided by locals shows the munition would have had a pressure valve on the front, that would have been used to fill the warhead with pressurized gas.

One of the munitions used in the January 22nd attack decorated by the Syrian artist Akram Abo Alfoz with the pressure valve used for filling the munition visible of the front of the warhead (Photo credit : Akram Abo Alfoz)

The two objects in the rear of the warhead appear to be pressure relief valves, although the exact function is yet to be established. An extensive gallery of images showing the munitions in detail can be found here.

One of the objects removed from the rear of the warhead (Photo credit: STJ)

One of the objects removed from the rear of the warhead dismantled (Photo credit: STJ)

Bellingcat’s 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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50 Comments

  1. duplicitousdemocracy

    The continued attempts on this site to convict Assad for using chemical weapons are risible. Co-operating with the STJ and accepting the word of Le Mesurier’s discredited and repeatedly exposed terrorist affiliates doesn’t give an ounce of credibility to these claims. There is absolutely no logical or military reason for Assad to be giving the West the excuse they crave for another Libya. In case you clowns have forgotten, Iraq and Libya were both attacked using complete and utter fabrications. Both were regarded as friendly to the Palestinian cause, along with Syria. I know circumstantial evidence isn’t your thing but have you not noticed a trend with regards a nation of squatters getting other countries to destroy their enemies for them? Have you been queueing up to condemn the internationally accepted crimes committed by the US and Israel while you obsess over Assad?
    The simple fact that you are unable to accept is that Assad enjoys overwhelming support of the Syrian people. Who are you or I to tell them it’s not their decision? Whenever the West gets involved, it is because they see a business opportunity as well as the destruction of the enemies of Israel. It’s a win-win.
    To expect the masses to believe the tin-pot conspiracy theories of this site with its ‘Chemistry for Dummies’ support group and the dubious evidence supplied and corroborated by Zinki, Al Nusra and the likes is stretching it, to say the least.
    If the Assad government were really as bad as is claimed, the Syrian people would have used the invasion of drug crazed foreigners to their advantage. What they actually see is the prospect of becoming a chaotic state full of small ethnic groups vying for power under the various warlords and clans . The Syrian people have made their choice and smear campaigns aren’t going to change it.

    Reply
    • Thomas Peterson

      It’s special bellingchemistry where hydrogen chloride plus iron produces iron oxide.

      Reply
    • PJefferson Araldi

      We who live in Europe are concerned about those endless waves of refugees from Mena, and many other places, flooding our countries. We don’t care if the Arab tribes kill each other, but the intervention of imperialist powers like Russia under the butcher Putin to supporPuhis fellow butcher Assad only makes things worse.

      Reply
      • duplicitousdemocracy

        Have you any idea where the influx of refugees and immigrants originates? Colonel Gadaffi warned Western leaders that if he were removed, a tsunami of displaced people would flood Europe. They ignored him then murdered him. The vast majority of these people aren’t Syrian so how you can put the blame at Assad’s door? Libya under Gadaffi was very Africa friendly and had many initiatives to help them to help themselves. But that’s exactly what the West doesn’t want because their theft of African assets would stop. Upon Gadaffi’s murder the so called rebels’ blamed African immigrants in Libya for all their ills and began to slaughter them. This is your source for the refugee problem. You are so badly informed, it’s unreal. Putin wants a settled Syria. Russia only has a handful of bases around the world. You’ll be saying next that the US is strong supporter of peace, tranquillity and diplomacy.

        Reply
      • Richard Ong

        A typical European attitude. Something causes people to want to migrate to Europe (whether because of war or because they simply feel like it) and then the Europeans cry, “We are helpless. If foreigners decide to come to our lands, we cannot object or resist. The decisions of foreigners are more important than our wishes, so we HAVE NO CHOICE but to surrender to the will of foreigners.”

        Here’s a thought: I may want to live in your country, I may want your car, I may want your house, I may want your money, and I may want your money but, guess what?! You don’t have to have your life ruined because of what I think would be very good for me. Repel would be migrants at your borders or on the sea and it doesn’t matter what the migrants think or want. Is that unclear for any reason?

        Reply
  2. DDTea

    Don’t even try that whataboutery. Assad is objectively worse than Israel toward his people. He should have resigned in 2012: then we’d be comparing Syria to Tunisia. Today it’s worse than Libya, because of Assad’s vanity. Ask yourself why HAMAS denounced him in 2012. Even Hezbollah’s former leader Subhi al-Tufayli has denounced Assad. The victims of oppression sympathize with those who fight oppressors.

    And likewise, those of us who have sympathized with the Palestinian people recognize familiar tactics. Assad’s online supporters share a lot in common with Israeli “Hasbara” who are active online during Israel’s “operations.” I see the same fanaticism, racism, dehumanization, attempts to blur reality.

    And it’s little surprise that the same folks who’ve traditionally supported hardline nationalist Israeli politicians have also voiced their support for Bashar Al-Assad. You’re all cut from the same cloth. Take it from Richard Black, who justifies his support for Assad because he, “Keeps the peace with Israel.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/the-virginia-state-senator-who-met-assad-thinks–and-acts–globally-before-assad-black-had-vietnam-and-a-nanny-with-a-wartime-backstory/2016/06/03/2e06da2c-1d38-11e6-b6e0-c53b7ef63b45_story.html?utm_term=.9fdcafb1f3be

    So spare us this garbage about “resistance.” The powers that be–America, Russia, France, etc.–all want the Ba’ath regime to remain in power because they like the status quo. They just want a change of face. They want a Syrian version of Egypt’s Sisi.

    Reply
    • duplicitousdemocracy

      I’ll tell you why Hamas condemned him, because they were promised much more money from Qatar than they were getting from Syria. Whereas you and your ilk are all behind the ultimate goal of ‘regime change’, I couldn’t care less who is the head of state, I just want the killing to stop and the Syrian misery given a chance to heal. If the drug addled extremists were an avenue to peace, I would support them but unlike you, I can see they are doing the work of the US and Israel by destroying (yet another secular state).
      You live in a parallel world if you think the US wants the Ba’athists to remain in power. The US fantasy is for the Kurds to control a huge area of Syria with all the resources in them, an area that they have never recently controlled and which is vast majority Arab. Russia has been a Syrian ally for many years and France? Who knows what they want when they don’t know themselves. Your ignorance is evident when you describe the policy of the US and Russia in the same sentence.
      Nearly 700 US bases worldwide separates the two for starters.
      Furthermore, earlier in this thread you held up the rebels as peaceful protesters so how come 88 Syrian Arab Army soldiers were murdered in the first 4 weeks?
      By the way, I don’t support Assad, i support the will of the people, sadly for you warmongers, the Assad Presidency IS the will of the people.

      Reply
  3. Helena

    Chlorine hydrate:

    https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Laszlo_Kotai/publication/257922152_A_review_on_the_oldest_known_gas-hydrate_-_the_chemistry_of_chlorine_hydrate/links/00b7d5261b367a5a57000000/A-review-on-the-oldest-known-gas-hydrate-the-chemistry-of-chlorine-hydrate.pdf

    Therefor the ice shown on the pics may contain a considerable amount of chlorine, persisting up to about 8 °C (and being toxic).

    Chlorine also undergoes disproportionation when dissolved in water in an equilibrium, leading to hydrogen chloride (HCl, a strong acid) and hypochlorous acid (HOCl, a weak acid but strong oxidizing agent). Upon consumption of HCl and HOCl for example by oxidizing iron, more chlorine undergoes disproportionation in order to reestablish equilibrium. It is well known iron is quite resistant to chlorine when absolutely dry, but if water is present, corrosion starts.

    Ferrous chloride isn’t stable in the atmosphere, and finally end up as iron hydroxides and oxides losing HCl, which can be easily verified by its biting smell (loss of HCl). In the presence of water iron chlorides undergo perpetual exchange of chloride ions by water, with water molecules losing a proton and vice versa. Therefor aqueous solutions of FeCl2/FeCl3 are acidic. The acidic environment leads to more iron metal being corroded forming new iron chlorides. Another effect of the exchange reaction is, it makes formed iron hydroxides and oxides soluble and permeable uncovering fresh unreacted metal surface. So no effective protection layer establishes. It goes on until HCl finally escapes into the atmosphere. This means HCl acts like a corrosion accelerator in the oxidation of iron by water and oxygen forming rust. Thus HCl is doing much more damage to the metal than simplistic Fe + 2 HCl —> FeCl2 + H2 would suggest, being just a snippet of the whole system. Hydrated FeCl2 is prone to further oxidation, is an acid, and undergoes exchange reactions of chloride by water, hydroxide, leading to an insoluble network of iron ions bridged by oxide ions. In reality this is a horribly complex mixture named rust.

    Iron chloride in oxidation state +2 isn’t stable, as it will oxidize further to +3 if chlorine and/or oxygen are present. The reason why ferrous chloride is hard to obtain in its pure *light blue* form and almost always looks green, is it’s mixed blue (FeCl2) + orange (FeCl3). How fast this goes depends on the surface (the higher the surface the faster it will oxidize) and concentration of chlorine and/or oxygen. A corroded surface is highly uneven and has a large surface area.

    I’m not sure what was the question. Does iron corrode in a highly corroding environment forming rust? Yes.
    Another question is how much rust was there before suspected chlorine release.

    Reply

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