As pressure mounts on US President Barack Obama to send troops into Syria, harrowing details of what it’s like to come under chemical attack are emerging daily.
There’s still no official word on the toll from the latest attack in Damascus. At least 350 men, women and children are confirmed dead from the effects of chemical weapons; up to 1700 are suspected.
What we do know is that the victims did not go peacefully. Nerve gases such as Sarin leave victims twitching, drooling, vomiting and maybe even defecating.
One of the more frightening effects is the impact nerve gases have on your heart rate, in some case slowing it down to the point where it eventually stops altogether.
This could account for the fact victims look peaceful and generally intact in death despite the fact they may have been suffocating from anywhere between 30 minutes and 18 hours.
From a soldier’s perspective, the realisation that such a slow, terrifying death could be just an unfortunate gust of wind away simply compounds the nightmare scenario they already face.
The problem is, according to an incredible story published by Le Monde late last month, is that by the time you realise a chemical attack is under way, it’s usually too late to do anything about it.
At this stage, suspicions were growing that the new chemical weapons used by government forces were of a far more toxic nature than tear gas.
At first, there is only a little sound, a metallic ping, almost a click. And in the confusion of daily combat in Jobar’s Bahra 1 sector, this sound didn’t catch the attention of the fighters of the Tahrir al-Sham (‘Liberation of Syria’) Brigade. ‘We thought it was a mortar that didn’t explode, and no one really paid attention to it,’ said Omar Haidar, chief of operations of the brigade, which holds this forward position less than 500 meters from Abbasid Square.
Searching for words to describe the incongruous sound, he said it was like ‘a Pepsi can that falls to the ground.’ No odor, no smoke, not even a whistle to indicate the release of a toxic gas. And then the symptoms appear. The men cough violently. Their eyes burn, their pupils shrink, their vision blurs. Soon they experience difficulty breathing, sometimes in the extreme; they begin to vomit or lose consciousness. The fighters worst affected need to be evacuated before they suffocate.
Le Monde’s reporters have been on the outskirts of Damascus for several months, and are probably the least surprised of all by the latest attack that finally drew the US into the spotlight.
Among their revelations were:
– Gas attacks had been “routine” since April
– Government soldiers in chemical protection suits were seen laying “little bombs”
– Syrian authorities are mixing tear gas with chemicals to hide the source of the symptoms, and
– Government forces were intercepting attempts to smuggle victim’s tissue samples out of the city
Read the disturbing full account at Le Monde.
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