Alleged Chemical Attack, December 23, 2012

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What would be the first confirmed chemical weapons attack of the Syrian conflict (if confirmed, and it's not the first allegation) was reported on December 23, 2012. It came in the form of at least two opposition videos showing at several adult males and older boys getting oxygen treatment in field hospital, gasping horribly for breath. The young age and prevalent short beards of the victims suggest they're mostly if not all rebel fighters. The charges came more than two weeks after the last allegation we noticed, as fears over the Syrian government's alleged preparations for using Sarin nerve gas from early December - and accompanying military threat from the United States - had subsided.

The active agent has not yet been guessed at by any public experts. Just what the videos show remains to be proven, as does whether or not it's deemed to have crossed Washington's "red line."

The content below is extremely fragmentary at the moment and hasn't been analyzed at all.

The Videos

3:03, Dec. 23 by علي احمد ياسين. Title translation: Homs Mahasrhatalaq chemical gases crippling nerve and temporary loss of sight

5:53, Dec. 23 by xmanw2011 Trans: Homs beleaguered field hospital doctor talk about toxic gases and the influx of more injuries

9:11, Dec. 23 by xmanw2011. trans: Homs beleaguered field hospital in the Khalidiya district in Homs

1:11, Dec. 23 by Ugrait News. Trans: 23 12 Homs Ugarit, comments doctors about cases of suffocation in the besieged Homs

0:53, Dec. 23 by Homslive. Trans: Homs Bayada one choking injuries due to toxic gases

More videos and analysis forthcoming. There are more videos and/or images of apparent fighters wearing respirators around on Facebook.

Opposition Sources / The Claims / Israeli Non-Corroboration

  • Al-Gazeera Homs, Facebook-
  • Local Coordination Committees Homs: 4 martyrs on Dec. 22, seven on Dec. 23. No mention at all on front page for chemical, toxic, gas, poison.
  • Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: Apparently nothing was immediately posted. However they were cited by NBC News (see below) so: "The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gathered activist accounts on Sunday of what they said was a poison gas attack in the city of Homs." All that can be found easily on their site is A SOHR report that quotes another source citing SOHR: :The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quoted activists in the central Syrian city as saying that a number of rebels died in two neighbourhoods on Sunday night after inhaling white smoke that came out of shells fired on the area. The Syrian Network for Human Rights, a competing group (they call each other fake) was however quoted by NBC on the 24th:
Mousab Azzawi, chairman of the London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights and a doctor, told NBC News that his organization had received reports from three eyewitnesses on Sunday. He said field doctors in Homs were seeing patients “losing consciousness, experiencing severe shortness of breath and vomiting.”

“To our understanding, this is similar to poisoning with pesticide,” he said, although he was not aware of any pesticide that could take the form of a gas.''

  • NBC News, Dec. 24: Syria activists: Several die after Assad's forces use 'poisonous gases': CAIRO -- Several Syrians have died after inhaling poisonous gas released by government forces in rebel-held districts of Homs, local eyewitnesses and activists claimed Monday. Civilians were admitted to hospital with serious breathing problems after Sunday’s attack, according to doctors and groups who posted what they said was video of the aftermath to YouTube. The gas is thought to have been a concentrated irritant, but not one of the deadly chemical weapons stockpiled by the regime of Syria president Bashar Assad.
  • NBC News, Dec. 25: Syria activists: Several die after Assad's forces use 'poisonous gases' Israel: No proof chemical weapon was used in Syria: 'Israel voiced doubt on Tuesday about claims that chemical weapons had been used against rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad. ... "We have seen reports from the opposition. It is not the first time. The opposition has an interest in drawing in international military intervention," Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Army Radio. "As things stand now, we do not have any confirmation or proof that (chemical weapons) have already been used, but we are definitely following events with concern," he said.

Investigations: Reports Dismissed

In mid-january, it was revealed that Western sources had taken the claims seriously and investigated. The event was found to have not crossed Washington's red line. CNN reported, Jan. 14:

Foreign Policy's "The Cable" blog reported Tuesday that a secret diplomatic cable provided a "compelling case" that President Bashar al-Assad's military used chemical weapons in the attack.
The United States was informed of the incident by representatives of a non-governmental organization working in Syria, who told the U.S. consulate in Turkey that they believed a chemical attack took place in Homs, according to a U.S. official

Even Turkish officials agreed, after their own investigation, that no banned weapons were used (and none apparently could prove by whom). The victims (six of whom died) were exposed to a riot control gas in unusual concentrations, causing nerve problems and breathing problems and hallucinations, paralysis, blindness, and death in the few closest, according to "Dr. Abu al Fida, who treated about 30 of the approximately 100 people who were affected by the mysterious gas." It's still an apparent misuse, but the chemical was found to not be Sarin or the banned "Agent 15," despite showing clinical similarities to both.

Covering for the Rebels?

It should be noted there's no clear proof how these apparent rebel fighters had been gassed and by whom. An interesting insight comes from Wired magazine's website, which had earlier reported the case for Agent 15, a hallucinogen:

“We can’t definitely say 100 percent, but Syrian contacts made a compelling case that Agent 15 was used in Homs on Dec. 23,” an unnamed U.S. official tells [Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin].
Agent 15 is similar to 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate or BZ, a powerful hallucinogen that the American military tested out on its own soldiers during the Cold War. Its emergence on the Syrian battlefield would be nothing short of bizarre. While Syria is well-known to have a massive supply of chemical weapons, international observers haven’t ordinarily included BZ on that list.
Over the years, there have been rumors of BZ being used on a battlefield — including one that Iraqi insurgents were dosing themselves with the drug to pump up their aggressiveness. If the cable is accurate, this would be the first confirmed case of BZ employed as a weapon. At the moment, however, the cable’s claims are not confirmed.