Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Assessing HRW's Latest Chlorine Report

Assessing HRW's Latest Syria Chlorine Report
Adam Larson aka Caustic Logic
February 16-18, 2017

Note: a rough post, to get in there while people are still paying attention, now fairly complete, but may be added to.

On February 13, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a new report alleging the Syrian government used chlorine gas against civilians during its re-conquest of eastern Aleppo in November and December last year. "Syria: Coordinated Chemical Attacks on Aleppo" urges in a by-line: "Security Council Should Impose Sanctions." This has been done a lot already, and just seems to encourage "Assad" to keep doing it more. But oh well ...

Villains that they are, Syria and Russia both deny the allegations, calling them fictions spun by the Islamist, interventionist "opposition" to scuttle upcoming negotiations and keep regime change as everyone's goal. (Reuters) There's much logic to that, and precedent for it. But they don't seem to have the specifics to explain the evidence, meager though it is, or to counter the charges like we'll try to do here.

HRW is of course notoriously biassed in against governments that the United States has been trying to overthrow. Their reliability as judges of fact vs. fiction is dubious in such cases, which obviously includes Syria. I'll skip a fluff re-explanation of that here (but see as needed Alternet: Nobel Peace Laureates Slam Human Rights Watch's Refusal to Cut Ties to U.S. Government), and get right to testing it by the specifics at hand.

The report notes how the eight "confirmed" attacks on rebel-held areas (out of more alleged) preceded government advances in that district. HRW's Ole Solvang is quoted saying this suggests the attacks "were coordinated with the overall military strategy for retaking Aleppo, not the work of a few rogue elements.” 

However, it's not explained and not at all clear just what purpose these alleged gas attacks would serve in that strategy. Collectively they got 8 dead civilians, and no rebels affected, or apparently aimed at. Aleppo was cleared of the "terrorists" by cutting supply lines, enforcing embargoes, standard fighting and negotiated surrenders. It was not at all due to some random chlorine plumes. Their interactive map shows a reported chlorine drop in a district, and then a few days later the government takes that over, as they were doing across the whole area, with predictable directions. To me, the sequence HRW is more consistent with Rebel false-flaggers about to flee their districts, anticipating government moves and coordinating their claims - but guessing too soon in most cases.

Further, chlorine gas has little reasonable use, to kill or otherwise. In some combat situations, it can be used to deadly effect, if the gas can be concentrated, the victims are pinned in by gunfire, or so much is used the cloud is huge and inescapable (some cases are mentioned below). In a gas chamber, it could be a sure and horrible death, but a slow one. But just fired into a city from a distance, in a couple of rockets giving off limited plumes, is not likely to do much to anyone. 

Chlorine is very common and easy to fake. But surely that's not why "Assad" is using it... It must be because by now, there's a strong record of acceptance that the Syrian government drops chlorine on people. They do it routinely, it's accepted, since mid-2014, with a number of improvised methods and always aiming for civilians. HRW brags that they alone have "published reports on the Syrian government’s use of chlorine in May 2014, April 2015, June 2015, and September 2016," all reaching similar conclusions to this fifth installment. The logic of it doesn't seem to matter - HRW knows a war crime, and this is a deadly friggin' gas. This is like WWII Nazi stuff, totally banned, and people need to be held to account.

1) Said vs. Seen (and heard)
The report states:
Identifying with certainty the chemical used in the attacks without laboratory testing is difficult, but the odor, signs, and symptoms that victims and medical personnel reported indicate that government forces used chlorine.
Words were reported to them. They cite people describing a smell like cleaning products, as if that proves they really smelled chlorine, and they couldn't make it up or be coached to say that. But anyway, there was some real chlorine, in at least one case, so maybe they did smell it. But how was it delivered, and by whom?

Over and over witnesses describe in detail seeing the helicopter, seeing objects falling, knowing where they landed and seeing how they didn't explode. But as usual, no one was able to put a camera lens between his eyes and that event - no one was able to provide video of these objects falling from the helicopters in any of the cases.

HRW considered 8 cases here, and the best they got is a video by Aleppo Media Center from November 20 22, This shows a helicopter above (no sound - it's very high), then a cut - to a different day for all we know. And there's the green gas cloud appearing as seen here, as the cameraman says Allahu Akbar (supposedly in horror, like "oh my god").

The actual drop of a munition isn't shown. That makes zero for eight. Maybe he got bored before that and stopped filming, or the long fall was deemed boring later and edited out. We're to presume the scenes really do go together, but they might not.

There is an audio clue here - a faint whoosh, and a light explosion sound, from a distance, right after the cut. It could be a falling gas tank, maybe, if it had fins and got going fast... but it sounds more like a driven rocket to me, but maybe a light one. The quick cut suggests the duration was short - maybe too short to be from such a long drop. The bang doesn't sound much like the non-explosion most cite. (I'm not an expert, but I'll ask around...)

"In two attacks, journalists nearby captured the smoke on video," the report notes, adding that "Chlorine is yellowish-green in its gaseous form." Throughout the report, alleged witnesses describe chlorine exposure symptoms somewhat accurately, either because they saw them or just know what to say. They describe that color, the smell (akin to chlorine bleach), and the heavier-than-air quality, sinking into basements. This is accurate enough. But the visuals that should serve as proof are half-wrong. 

1.1) November 22: A Bogus Scene
HRW's headlining image is this still from the Aleppo Media Center video linked above. It looks like colored smoke, rising high and drifting on a gentle breeze, with no sign of falling back down, This was noted by Charles Shoebridge and readers on Twitter. Chlorine wouldn't do this. It could be blasted high, but would drift back down, and wouldn't wisp around on the breeze so easily.

As noted by Shoebridge et al., the color is also suspect, a bit too rich of a green hue. It seems debatable in the Aleppo Media Center video, but this appears a bit red-tinted. At right is a comparison of that, on the left, and adjusted on the right. By this, it seems not yellow enough, not pale enough - and of course not heavy enough - to be chlorine. This is some kind of green-colored special effects smoke, not any chemical weapon.

That's not to say there was no chlorine, but ...  A family of six reportedly died earlier this day, every one of them, in another chlorine incident nearby that didn't get filmed. (It happened around midnight). This plume video is from hours later, in the afternoon. It's supposed to help clarify this is a chlorine day, and that's why a family just died. But instead, it shows people trying to make it look like that, which is actually suspicious, (oops: this is from November 22, the family died November 20. It's not quite that suspicious)

1.2) December 8: Some Real Chlorine, at least
Another video showing chlorine gas, of two cited by HRW, by On the Ground News (Bilal Abdul Kareem) has similar audio. No helicopter is heard (again, perhaps it was too high). But there's a loud roar, almost like a passing jet, or an incoming rocket, capped with what sounds like a fairly heavy boom in the mid-distance. 

Someone on screen knows "he's dumping chlorine!" almost as soon as that thud is heard. Peeking around the corner a few seconds later, there's the green cloud, creeping along the ground. This is how chlorine behaves, and the color seems correct - pale yellow-green. It might be originating closer than that impact happened, and already creeping before that. This slow-creeping field of the stuff goes back meters, and has been rolling for a little while. And the blast sounds distant. Coordinated?

They're saying "no one should breathe" "go up on the roof." But it's only heavy an inch or so up, and has only mild effect a few feet higher and a few feet back. The effect is likely real, but only so strong. Note how they respond: No one faints, and after documenting it, they get away from the gas. Not everyone does that, reportedly. Some people inside houses filled with the stuff allegedly sit there and die. (see below). There was that family of six on November 20, and it's said two people died from chlorine in eastern Aleppo on Decembe 8, as this better plume was witnessed. (it's said they died from a different plume in another district, however, maybe at a different time).

The OGN video appears to show the real deal, chlorine gas hugging the ground like it should. But how it was delivered, with that whooshing noise, deserves more careful study.

1.3) The Yellow Tanks
There have been several types of alleged chlorine bombs used since 2014, starting with gas cylinders, graduating in 2015 to barrel bombs, where chlorine precursors are mixed inside upon impact (which is very unlikely, by the way - the impact and/or explosion would disrupt the mixing and produce no gas). Cylinders inside barrel bombs and other types have been dropped in front of rebel cameras in between and since.

This conquest-coordinated series of attacks is a special sub-set, unified by the use of a special and well-documented canister, when any kind is identified (five of the 8 cases). "In all five incidents, the footage shows the same type of yellow gas cylinder." One of those is shown here, from an AMC photo cited in the report, damaged supposedly by its fall from a helicopter. I haven't noticed this exact kind used, but I haven't followed it 100% (2014's were similar at least). We see no engines, nor even fins attached. They don't seem very heavy. Would these make that whooshing sound? And would this bending metal cause those booms we heard on video? I don't think chlorine gas is explosive...(update 2-18: CDC lists numerous explosion hazards with chlorine - ruptured cylinders can even "rocket," but reactivity is rated at 0, so...???)

By size and shape, these seem like these 44-liter cylinders and painted the standard color for chlorine. "A label still visible on the remnant from one attack shows a warning that the cylinder contained gas." A label that remains partly covered in mud, has Roman and Arabic lettering, as posted on Facebook by Lebanese Zaman al-Wasl. The company is apparently based in Jordan, making chemicals for civilian use, not weaponry. This might have been imported earlier, or smuggled in. Zaman al-Wasl asked the manager how "the company's weapons" (products) came to be "in the hands of bashar al-Assad's regime." (from auto-translate). A response might be forthcoming.(links, etc...)

In Syria, chlorine was also made at the Syria-Saudi Chemical Company (SYSACCO)..., in al-Safirah, Aleppo. I hear it's Syria's only chlorine production facility. Rebels seized the plant in the summer of 2012, and Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra seized it from them around December 6. It had some 400 giant one-ton barrels, destined for water treatment plants across the country, and painted the same golden-yellow. The terrorists took video of the place. I tried to get the barrels all in one panoramic view, but had to leave it at this majority view. (Monitor)

They had plenty of time to re-bottle and relocate and perhaps produce fresh stuff during their long tenure as de facto managers there. (It's been back in government hands now for some time). Also, someone had some chlorine, or empty tanks anyway, from a Jordanian company. We don't know what this means.

Also, the regime allegedly has lots of chlorine, runs the SYSACCo plant now (if it functions, unclear), and drops it from helicopters. No one knows why, but it's criminal.

Pending proof these tanks fell from a helicopter, or that they didn't (I haven't seen it yet), let's get back to the Islamist opposition's narrative, and a major problem with it no one has noticed so far.

2) The Dead Make Little Sense
2.1) No, Chlorine Doesn't Make You Pass Out
Relevant fact: chlorine does not cause unconsciousness, nor paralysis, nor even confusion or sleepiness. It's effect is mostly mechanical; it turns to hydrochloric acid on contact with water or wet tissues. It causes red, irritated eyes, perhaps skin irritation, lung damage, severe coughing, possible nausea, headache, and later on in severe cases, cyanosis (a blue color shift in the blood and skin, especially in the lips).

From the inside, the patient feels burning eyes, severe coughing and - most pressingly - an acute pain in the chest, with tightness and labored breathing, causing agitation or even panic, and a strong desire to get the hell away from this gas.Dizziness can occur, and sometimes an odd weakness in the legs tempts the victim to lie down. But they remain alert and aware of the need to get away. If you doubt this, go look it up. Most good sources relate to World War I, but the molecules are still the same.

Update 2-18: This does deserve more explaining, besides double-checking: I'm doing research now, and will post a piece soon, with a link added here.

Most choose to move out of the gas at first chance, are able to, and wind up surviving just fine after a rough spell.  People can die from chlorine if they're trapped somehow - like in World War I, pinned down in a trench by enemy fire, or put into a huge cloud they can't even walk out of before succumbing, or just from getting a very concentrated blast. The damage is done during exposure, however intense and however long that is. Death only come later, as the damage and the body's often fatal response play out. At the very end, the victim gets weak, loses consciousness, and then dies. But this is after a while of enduring it, when the coughing gets too difficult and breathing stops, and as the body is shutting down.

I can't see how, but perhaps there's a way chlorine would knock you out right away in some fluke circumstances. But here, people in the bomb damaged houses seem to just die instantly, or instantly become inert, loose consciousness or "fall asleep." And it happens in perhaps every case where the bomb allegedly lands in someone's home.

In fact, if one passed out from something else earlier, the chlorine would likely have the same effect as smelling salts, and snap the victim awake to get the hell out of there. But not in these stories. Like poorly-scripted silent movie heroines, they lay down in the sleepy fog and await rescue. But the gas makes them unreachable to rescuers, who claim to lack gear, and to sometimes pass out themselves... and so the implausible victim slowly dies inside.  This happens regularly, as if to keep the reminders fresh.

Is someone locking them inside these houses? No. Who could get there quick enough after the bombing? It takes just seconds to get out the door. Were they maybe locking people inside some unrelated place we might call a gas chamber? Some evidence says this is quite likely, and has even been the norm, down the line from the earliest alleged CW attacks to the present.For now, let's just keep an open mind and note the provided explanation doesn't make sense.

We're presented here with about the same formula we've seen since the start of the chlorine allegations - a bomb-damaged house, often looking long-abandoned, with the alleged delivery device in there, said to be filled with chlorine, and the family all just sat there and died.

2.2) November 20: The "Baytounji Family"
In HRW's report are 8 dead civilians verified, and at least two more reported, out of just 8 incidents. I knew about those listed by the VDC, but that didn't include the bulk of these: an entire family of six, killed November 20 in al-Sakhour district.

A witness said this chlorine bomb was dropped shortly after midnight, early on the 20th, impacting a house near a vegetable market. "The smell was like the liquid we use when we clean the house.” Videos show a house in ruins "and remnants of a yellow cylinder amid the rubble." It's said the family died here; A medical activist told them he "put a wet cloth over his mouth and went out to check the neighborhood," finding in one house "five dead civilians, a mother, father and three children. Their faces were blue."

Other activists and reports agree with photos and videos, citing six dead and showing 4 children. The man is seen in some cases, but the woman isn't. I haven't watched the videos yet. That will get a special space if I do. So a better resolution image analysis forthcoming. Here's a still from a clip of it in HRW's video, with too little detail to say much about the poison.

They seem to be two girls and two boys, maybe 3 boys and a girl. They show no sign of being trapped beneath the rubble (light dust usually, torn clothes, injuries, etc.). They may be a bit dingy and smoke-stained, which is a different sign (abusive captivity). But they weren't pinned down under the rubble. So why didn't they flee the choking gas? Four different children, and two adults ... between them, no one thought of a better plan than to just sit there and die?

Was it because they didn't have their shoes on? It's not clear why they're off here, but they're often removed before an Islamist executes you.) They did get out of bed and get dressed up in daytime clothes, pretty quickly after this "shortly after midnight" attack... strange that. But didn't get their shows on or get out the door. Note: hostages aren't given pajamas to sleep in, and don't even have to die at the stated time.

Reuters heard these were members of a Baytounji family. "Human Rights Watch has not been able to independently verify the names." There seems to be no record in the VDC martyrs database of people of this name dying, perhaps ever (it's hard to be sure what spelling they would use, and I don't have the Arabic spelling). Unless they were listed under a different name and a different cause, it seems this usually exhaustive source missed out on this mini-massacre.

Update 2-18: The family may be listed, but the VDC didn't get the name. I may have assembled the name in Arabic ( بيتونجي ), and found just one result: a man named Ibrahim Hajjar Baytounji, from the Syriac Christian community in Aleppo, helped fund the building of a church or a roof for one in or near Aleppo, back in the 1930s (Arabic essay). I found no other info, just this indication Baytounji is a rare name in rotation in Aleppo's Christian community. This strengthens the impression this Aleppo family might've been hostages of the Islamists, being Christians, and were killed before the terrorists left the area, since it couldn't be done after... Explained here at ACLOS.

2.3) The Other Suspiciously Passive Croakers
Dec 8 attack: "Al-Khattat said that the attack killed two people: Ammar Shohaiber, around 40, and Mohammad Abrach, around 50." Other sources tended to agree. But as HRW notes, the VDC lists Ammar Shohaiber and an unidentified woman - no ages given, but they seemed like a husband and wife - and the age similarity of the men is notable ... but whatever, in or or two locations, two older people with decades of wisdom behind them had their houses fill with chlorine gas ... and they just sat there and died?

A 55-year-old woman was killed, November 2, HRW heard, after the chlorine tank smashed through her roof. No one could get close enough to help her open the door, and drag her out, because the gas was so strong you couldn't stand it. But she must have, you know, passed out.

An alleged two other people were said to be killed on Nov. 28. No genders or details were given. HRW couldn't confirm anything. Maybe that witness misread the memo, seeing 12-8 (when two died) as 11-28, and so he gave the wrong day? There was a reported attack of 11-28, but no one else mentioned any deaths.

Some sources also reported another five civilians killed after the December 9 attack. HRW couldn't confirm it, but it's not likely to just be made up. Most likely, as usual, this is in one gas-filled home, where five more people just sat there and died from the chlorine gas that "Assad" dropped on them, for no good reason. That's a total of perhaps 16 implausible deaths, or even more, in this chain of 8 attacks.

HRW gives no explanation for how these deaths happened, or whether it's usual or expected. If they did, they'd point to precedent from Syria in the last 3 years, which is meaningless.  Did the nature of chlorine change recently? Is this a different chemical, or some combination, being dropped from helicopters? Or does the true story follow different lines entirely, ones that run along the ground?

3) What Else Did HRW Miss?
After the (fall / re-conquest / liberation) of eastern Aleppo, signs emerged of a rebel chlorine industry there - Press TV report on Saudi chemicals found stored there (relevance unclear). An RT report with Lizzie Phelan shows a former school perhaps used as a chlorine factory, with hundreds of large jugs of magenta-colored potassium permanganate, in a liquid form. Mixed with hydrochloric acid, this produces pure chlorine gas. That might be able to be bottled somehow. (ACLOS) This is like the 2015 Assad chlorine barrel bomb, but taken out of the barrel and put in a terrorist-run former school. Reverse engineering, or is it more the other way around? Hm...

Some executed soldiers, hostages rebels had killed before escaping on the green buses - seen in photos with no visible wounds or blood - these might have been gassed, though chlorine isn't particularly indicated...  (same link - one other might have been beheaded)

Human Rights Watch start their survey on November 17, but list the first incident on the 18th.  Their interactive map also starts at 11-17, and blank - no chlorine attack that day. But oddly, one was reported and condemned, in a prominent but shady string of reported events I'll write up soon (see here at ACLOS for now) Chlorine victims went to the clinic, which was then bombed, and babies in incubators had to be removed for their safety - all the babies lived, it was said - including the one that was already dead and stiff with rigor mortis before the alleged hospital bombing. Now HRW adds - the chlorine part didn't happen? What next? The barrel bombing of the hospital was staged?

Earlier attacks: Sept. 6, 2 fatal victims, both seen, neither seems exposed to chlorine (Monitor)

Aug. 2, old city, a quick-killing CW inside a breached tunnel kills 5 soldiers, chlorine rockets after kill rescuers and civilians, a reported total of 13 killed - here's a rescue worker who died (via InGaza) display cyanosis (general purple color all over, his blood is in deep crisis, if he's even alive here), skin irritation (redness, and the mud suggests it burned, it might seem like mud could soothe that). Importantly, there's blood from the nose, and he'll have blood in the lungs, and maybe thick protective mucous now, complicating things. He also might have eye damage (lids would look swollen/puffy, and they might).

This was a pretty audacious chemical attack, but it went barely-noted outside Syria, eclipsed by a same-day alleged chlorine attack, from regime helicopter with a barrel bomb of course, on rebel-held Sarmin, but no one was lined up in time to die from it. (ACLOS)

April 7, 2016, Khan al-Assal Aleppo: Jaish al-Islam now operates around Aleppo? Their admitted chlorine weapons were fired - unauthorized, they said, and the  guy broke the rules would be punished - unclear if he was - 23 Kurdish fighters killed. One victim at right: bloody face, possible severe eye damage - maybe a strange facial injury, or a nasty dose of acid. (ACLOS)

Further back, the Taleb babies killed by chemicals on March 16, 2015 in Sarmin, Idlib province. Helicopters dropped a chlorine-mixing barrel bomb on the home of a family of 6, all of whom just sat there and died in their basement home. Grandma fell asleep on the stairs trying to leave the babies behind. Mom and dad passed out, but were alive and able to talk at the hospital before dying. The three babies were rescued later, at least 2 still alive. They were rushed to this clinic where they die on camera with poor assistance.
And it seems they were never exposed to chlorine, and died from something else ... white, calm eyes, pale skin, no blood, no choking, no coughing, barely breathing, not moving or responding - comatose, and then somewhere they slip over to dead - likely overdose with a CNS depressant drug like moprhine, demerol, or other. (ACLOS, Monitor) This doesn't come from a dropped barrel bomb. It's hand-delivered by locals, with needls or pills, somewhere before this MSF-supplied field clinic, but perhaps from its shelves anyway.

Back in mid-2014, various displaced families, almost entirely, wound up under the chlorine bombs, and tended to die altogether, after just sitting there for never-explained reasons. (Monitor)

Back further ...  March 19, 2013, Khan al-Assal, Aleppo: a rebel rocket releases a yellow-green plume some say smelled like chlorine. But don't worry - it was sarin, all evidence suggests. That's why 20 people died and it makes perfect sense. That was fired by Jabhat al-Nusra, on a government-held area, aiming for an army checkpoint, but mostly killing nearby civilians (the village was majority Shi'ite, for what it's worth...) (ACLOS)

December 22, 2012: seven SAA soldiers die after inhaling yellow-green gas fired at them in Daraya, southwest of Damascus ... perhaps pinned down - and it might have been sarin, of the kind used in Khan al-Assal, despite the chlorine-like color (unclear at this point) they didn't show us this on Youtube, but did report it among several such attacks they wanted the UN and OPCW to investigate. (ACLOS)

The next day, rebels responded with a widely discredited allegation, a chemical attack by the regime in Homs, perhaps with sarin. Exactly seven men/rebels were killed, in what became known as the first deadly alleged chemical incident of the war. But U.S. and most official sources dismissed this, some seven men must have stood there and inhaled an entire canister of the non-lethal incapacitating agent BZ, after it was dispersed in the street. (Monitor analysis). That sounds silly and doesn't explain anything, but at least BZ is known to incapacitate people so they might just sit there and die, eventually. But again, the kind of chlorine that exists in the real world does not do that.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The First Bodies Tossed Across Obama's "Red Line" in Syria

The First Bodies Tossed Across Obama's "Red Line" in Syria
Re-visiting the Earliest Deadly Alleged CW Incidents {Masterlist}
February 12, 2017

Some ill-informed people still think chemical weapons allegations in Syria first surfaced in August, 2013 with the infamous Ghouta massacre that spurred threats of US military action. Most fairly informed observers know that alleged attacks date back further, to March 19 of that year at least, and that's why CW "inspectors" were there already when the Ghouta incident went down, ready to "confirm" it. 
March 19's twin incidents (or was it triplets, with one stillborn?) is where we start here, and then go backwards to increasingly unknown but deadly alleged CW incidents from the murky and tentative beginning. Next, we'll go back to a semi-known pair of chemical incidents the previous December, then two more earlier in December. Then we'll turn to a little known pair of alleged attacks even earlier, in November, that didn't get reported at the time, for a total of four parts, each covering 2-3 incidents, paired on the same or nearby days (that's just how they come).  
If there's time, I might start at March 19 again and go forward through other pre-Ghouta allegations. But for now...
"Red line," of course refers to Obama's threat to intervene military against Syria's government if it was believed to have used, or to be planning to use, its feared chemical weapons. Rumors of attacks, all small or vague, had already emerged by then, but no clear attack reports existed. But this could be an appealing invitation to rebels: create the impression of an Assad gas attack, and you can get military help.  
That threat was first issued by Obama on August 20, 2012, exactly one year (almost to the hour, adjusted for time zones) before the infamous Ghouta alleged sarin attack of August 21, 2013 (some of the child victims shown). This was said to dump 1,429, or perhaps 1,700 bodies across the "red line." I've set a visual minimum of about 420, mostly placed in the same east and west Ghouta area UN "inspectors" had just arrived between. The true number may be anywhere in that huge span;  I suspect 5-800. It was definitely a massive crime, with a lot of crime scenes, that the approved experts never did assess very well. Most clues agree in suggesting terrorists were behind this. (some on-site work and starting points gathered here)
In between Obama's threat/offer and this massive crossing of the "red line" on its first birthday ... no clear attack reports emerged shortly after August 20. However, a public reminder from Obama on December 3 (which was my own first notice) was followed by Syria's only chlorine factory and perhaps a Syrian CW cache, being seized by Jabhat al-Nusra around December 6 (see here), and a slew of small-scale CW allegations from both sides, on December 6, 8, 22, and 23. (December 8 is the only one close to the chemical seizures, BTW, and worth more study). Two of these involved fatalities, 7 dead each, but one was ignored and the other was widely dismissed as not crossing the "red line."

As if noticing they had failed, allegations paused. Then there was the loud and strange re-emergence of the issue on March 19, which we'll start with. And from there back, here are, as far as we know, the details behind the first 43 bodies, from both sides in the conflict, tossed over the line in small, paired batches.

The First Bodies Tossed Across Obama's "Red Line" in Syria
Part 1: What Happened on March 19, 2013? (posted Feb. 5)
Was there a three-part false-flag event planned? On one day: 
- Khan al-Assal, Aleppo (20 dead, mostly mixed civilians, Syrian soldiers affected), government blamed for the accident while trying to gas rebel areas
- Otaybah, Damascus Suburbs (5 civilian men of two families, a rebel, and a displaced baby killed, rebels affected), government blamed
- Baba Amr, Homs (no one dead?), government blamed. 
    One of these was clearly by rebels, using crude sarin, one was allegedly by the government, also it seems using crude sarin, and the other fizzled out with few details and vanished from the record. Why then? What were they thinking? Who died and how, etc.? 

Part 2: What Happened December 23, 2012 in Homs?   (posted Feb. 11)
    And what happened the day before? (7 Syrian soldiers killed in Daraya by a toxic gas, Dec. 22). Because one day later, activists reported a gas attack in Homs, maybe revenge. (7 men, rebels or civilians is contested) Was it Sarin missiles, or BZ grenades? Or something else, or two or three other things? Because there's no clear sign of sarin, opinions centered on BZ, which is non-fatal, and yet we've got 7 dead men.

Part 3: What Happened on December 6 and 8? (forthcoming)
    (no reported bodies tossed in either of these, but they need some special study space, ideally. One is in Daraya, Damascus suburbs, and the other in Safirah, Aleppo suburbs, quite near Jabhat al-Nusra's mass seizure of chlorine a couple days earlier...

Part 4: What Happened A Little Ways from Douma, Nov., 2012? (Feb 13)
     (Damascus suburbs, 2 children, both from displaced families from Douma, killed in other towns a week apart, in alleged chemical attacks that didn't get reported at the time.)

What Happened a Little Ways from Douma in November, 2012?

The First Bodies Tossed Across Obama's "Red Line" in Syria, Part 4:
What Happened a Little Ways from Douma in November, 2012?
By Adam Larson aka Caustic Logic,
February 13, 2017

(...intro red line issue again, gap before this) - then November, two alleged chemical incidents are recorded, quietly - no news at the time, but later claims say each attack killed one child, and apparently no one else. Each child was listed as from a displaced family, both listed as hailing from the suburb of Douma. That's quite interesting, but it's about all we know, except one important visual detail to solidify the questions. Below: how we know this, what it means, and what that visual clue means in context.

Background: Why a little ways from Douma?
    From an unclear time in 2011 and into 2012, a group called Liwa al-Islam ("District of Islam," later to become Jaish al-Islam, or "Army of Islam") was growing in power. - headed by the late Zahran Alloush, a Saudi-backed Islamist son of a Saudi-based exiled cleric, freed from prison is 2011 to mollify protesters. He was reportedly swiftly armed ... by Saudi Arabia. Liwa al-Islam (LiA) took firm hold over their base area of Douma, at the latest, by the summer of 2012, when they orchestrated a bomb assassination of top military officials nearby in Damascus. This earned them much prestige, more recruits and funding, and so LiA started expanding further

    Zahran Alloush was, and his group remains, Islamic extremists. Alloush at least, before he was killed in a December, 2015 air strike, was publicly avowed to eliminate Shi'ites, Alawites, or people of Persian (Iranian) ethnicity from their parts of Syria. They're also not keen on government fighters or supporters,  secular-minded Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, Druze, or Atheists. 

Some people would leave Douma under this leadership, and thus become "displaced," or IDPs (internally displaced people - like refugees but without crossing into another country). They might move into Damascus proper, or might try just moving a town or two over and hoping for the best.

    At some point, LiA or allies expanded into each of the  surrounding areas of East Ghouta - Harasta, Jobar, Autaya, etc.  In some cases, they may catch up with people who had fled them in Douma. What happens then?

    So, here's the map that makes me bright this up. The incidents in question (red) happened in Bahariya, 14 km SE of Douma (November 17, to IDPs from Douma) and Rihan, 4 km east of Douma (November 23, to IDPs from Douma). Harasta is in purple - for future precedent, an IDP family from there lost a baby and no one else in the next alleged "Assad" CW attack in the area, Otaybah, on March 19 (but six men also died - see part 1). The IDP babies dying in alleged chemical attacks seems to be quite a regional specialty.

November 17, Bahariya
    Again, no one reported this at the time, but the VDC records a chemical attack from the air that left one boy dead, in the Damascus suburbs, on November 17, 2012. They seem to have noted it at the time, and thought it was a first, but otherwise it went unmentioned.

    This come in the form of a single martyr entry for Odai Haroun, a boy of about 10 (by the photo - age not given). He's listed as from Douma, but with a "martyrdom location" of Damascus Suburbs: Bahariah. The notes explain "he was martyred after suffocating due to poisonous chemical gas dropped from the regime's warplanes on Al-Bahariya town in what appears to be the first time such thing happens". Cause of death: other. After this I guess the VDC created the category for toxic gasses.

    I dug around for reports, using that spelling and the Arabic spelling, and apparently no one reported this to any media at the time. I found nothing except an entry in another opposition database, Syrian Shuhada. This cites the VDC but gives an age of 10 (they seem to offer rounded off guessed ages including 10, 4, etc. - it's not unique info, and matches my own guesstimate.) The notes here, auto-translated, say "You will see the status of suffocation as a result of toxic gases that have been dumped on the town of Al-Bahariyah Damascus countryside."

    Actually, what you'll see, in the blurry photo or video still the VDC provides ... He does appear have died of suffocation, gasping for air but finally failing. But he has no chemical signs, like cyanosis, for example (a blue/purple color shift in the skin). There aren't always evident signs, but ... if one scans for blue skin, one will find it. But it's not the right shade, nor at the right place to be cyanosis. Rather, it seems to form a sort of fresh bruise-colored band around his throat, about the size and shape of two thumbs meeting, to squeeze his windpipe closed.  Poor displaced Odai may well have been manually strangled, perhaps by the Islamists his family had fled in Douma. 
    Side-note: Bahariya would be the site of at least one actual chemical attack, in August, 2013. Right after the Ghouta incident, rebels in the area felt compelled - besides able - to launch at least three serious chemical attacks on Syrian soldiers fighting to reclaim East Ghouta. In Jobar and Ashrafiyah Sahnaya, on the 24th and 25th, they were hit with sarin, but none died. On the 22nd in Bahariya, they were hit with a blue irritant gas, not sarin, and no one died then either.  (see...)

November 23, Rihan
    A week later on November 23, the VDC records, a baby girl, Fatma Mohammad Shalhoub, died in the town of Rihan. There are no images this time. The notes specify "she was reported on 10-5-2013," and indeed, the number is far higher, so added later. Odai was #43,577, and Fatima was #79,338, six months and 36,000 entries later. 

    Continuing, the notes say "she was martyred after her family flee to Rihan area, she is one month old , according the doctor reason of death is the cold, or Inhalation of chemical gases as a result of the bombing. reports to be validated." They allege there was an attack, which might be what killed her and apparently no one else, and it was also cold. It says Date of death: 2012-11-23, so she didn't die after an extended illness, but on that same day. And the VDC's bet is on "Cause of Death: Chemical and toxic gases."     

    Again, I could find no news reports about her or an incident involving Rihan at this time. I didn't look everywhere, just a quick search. I checked Syrian Shuhada, but if they have her added, I couldn't find it. The name search doesn't work anymore. The very large family names list includes a "Shlhob" family from Damascus Countryside (which must be it), with a total of 12 members killed and listed. But the list as linked won't come up. 

Some likely relevant VDC martyr entries named Shalhoub in this early span: 
July 29, 2011 an engineer 'fell' from a roof and had 'regime thugs' throw stones at him, in Douma. This was not an Islamist murder of a man thought to be gay, for example.

2012 6-23 18-year old Tareq Fares Shalhoub was executed in Douma when his home wars raided - they smashed his hand, perhaps cut his throat, and rebels soon had the dead body (video).

Some Shalhoubs are listed as rebels, fighting with "FSA" - one of interest 2012-11-17 a rebel from Damascus Suburbs, Rehebei northeast of Damascus, shot in Daraa - a week before Fatima died. That's probably an unrelated coincidence.


Friday, February 10, 2017

What Happened in Homs, December 23, 2012?

The First Bodies Tossed Across Obama's "Red Line" in Syria, Part 2:
What Happened in Homs on December 23, 2012?
Adam Larson aka Caustic Logic
February 11/12, 2017 

    The first two real-time reports of a deadly chemical attack came at about the same time, in late December, 2012. These came from the government and from the opposition, each blaming each other for two separate incidents, one in Damascus and one in Homs. 

December 22: Just Lies?
    The first incident was reportedly on December 22, in Daraya, in the southwest Damascus suburbs. There had been a report on the 6th of poisonous gasses "thrown" by government forces in Daraya, with no word on casualties (presumably no deaths). That was the first noted CW-related claim following US president Obama's December 3 re-iteration of his "red line" threat/offer. 16 days later, pro-government sources reported, a group of Syrian soldiers was in Daraya and had toxic gasses fired at them. It's said the shells produced a greenish-yellow cloud (like chlorine, or like the type of sarin to hit Khan al-Assal the following March). Within less than an hour, seven of the soldiers had died. (that's too vague a time frame to say if chlorine/etc. or sarin is more likely, but an informed probe later decided the former, a non-persistent irritant, was used) (ACLOS

    The report was mostly ignored, dismissed as Iranian propaganda (Press TV's report is the most-seen), and/or eclipsed by the following day's events. The alleged attack of December 23(ACLOS page, under revision) might offer a glimpse of the Syrian rebel CW false-flag industry, with a relatively ambitious true start after the weak first effort of the fall (see part 3 for the very first bodies we know of being tossed - upcoming). 

Dec. 23: First Reports
    Clay Caiborne's compiled tweets and articles. - cites Al-Jazeera reporting "Seven people have died in Homs after they inhaled a poisonous gas sprayed by government forces," citing activists. ABC News (Australia) cited the famous Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reporting "six rebel fighters were killed yesterday on the al-Khaldiya-al-Bayada frontier by a poisonous gas" The SOHR's even-less-credible UK-based rival Syrian Network for Human Rights weighed in with "reports from three eyewitnesses on Sunday" he passed to NBC News: "He said field doctors in Homs were seeing patients “losing consciousness, experiencing severe shortness of breath and vomiting.”

    One activist reported to Al  Jazeera "medics are saying it's something similar to Sarin gas," while an Australian ABC news report translates the doctor as saying "It's definitely a poisonous gas, but we don't know what type it is ... It is definitely not sarin." 

    From the start, experts agreed, and decided something less serious and perhaps non-lethal was responsible ... except maybe for the dead people? With years to sort it out, the picture is not much clearer. So let's see if we can clarify it here.

Two Stories from State Dept. Contacts
    This is a little complex, and perhaps a good to go way is outline how the various claims line up with the two distinct versions of events handed to the US state department consulate in Syria. Foreign Policy Magazine's The Cable reported in mid-January on a released State Department cable that showed the competing cases and contradictions. 

    One group of contacts basically described the nerve agent sarin. That kills instantly in small doses, and marks a straight line to a war-worthy CW claim. 

    The other sources, seeming a bit more credible and more trusted by the consulate, suggest a usually non-lethal incapacitating agent was used. It could be the agent dubbed "BZ," invented by the US military during the Cold War, or in regional context, the purported Iraqi-made imitation "Agent 15," or something akin to those. For shorthand, I'll used BZ. As I gather, this causes confusion, delirium, muscular relaxation or paralysis, and maybe strange behavior. It was designed to make an enemy incapable of fighting for a time, but without killing them. Apparently Syria was using it, and it can be fatal.

    Here are the cases in some detail, citing The Cable, with supporting claims from other sources.

Homs doctors/BASMA* describe sarin: A colorless but pungent-smelling gas was released, in 3 areas (Old City, Bayada, Khalidiya), at night, using an unclear method. They said "most victims had pinpoint pupils, also known as miosis," and it responded to atropine: "two doctors in Homs ... said that they used Atropine on the victims and that it improved their conditions, which would mean that BZ was not the gas used," and sarin might have been. 

-- Supporting: Raji Rahmet Rabbou, an activist in Homs, told Al Jazeera "We don't know what this gas is but medics are saying it's something similar to Sarin gas." But the effects reported include "nausea, relaxed muscles, blurred vision, and breathing difficulties," which is not very consistent.
-- Supporting: 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 "field doctors in Homs" and ""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." Sarin is liquid and forms a vapor or mist, if not a gas, and is similar to pesticides, an organophosphate.
-- Supporting: "...but two doctors who treated victims on the scene told The Cable that the gas was colorless but that several victims reported a pungent odor." (colorless describes military grade sarin, but is unlikely to be described reliably, in a confusing night-time attack, and more likely to be made up - a pungent odor IF from sarin means it's not military grade stuff)

-- Against: videos show no one with sarin symptoms, like miosis (pinpoint pupils) or the messy SLUDGE syndrome.  One man's pants are soiled, but only at the knees, from when he collapsed in the mud.

* BASMA = an opposition media project. The name means "fingerprint," as this news report explains, and it's "run out of an office in Istanbul where Syrian activists write and produce reports for a Facebook page and the Basma website. A promotional video explains the goals of Basma: "to support a peaceful transition for a new Syrian nation that supports and guards the freedom of all of its citizens." The Website has since died, but the Facebook page still exists in 2017.

Consulate contacts/SLN describe BZ:
This version has a white cloud causing, as a Syria Life News  Syria Life News (SLN) reporter told the consulate staff, symptoms including: "burning eyes, temporary blindness, relaxed and numb joints, unresponsiveness, nausea, unconsciousness, difficulty breathing, and temporary paralysis affecting the spine." "The consulate’s contact also reported that most victims had dilated pupils, which contradicts the account the two doctors." One contact told the consulate "Atropine worsened the condition of the patients ... which would be consistent with the theory that a BZ-like compound was used," and would basically prove it wasn't sarin. Both the breathing problems and the eye irritation might be unrelated to BZ itself, but seem to come in conjunction with this symptom set.

-- Supporting: SOHR cited white smoke  but symptoms were: "severe dizziness and headaches, some even suffered from epilepsy" which sounds different.
-- Supporting: the field doctor who decided "it is definitely not sarin," maybe after treating with atropine and finding it made the problem worse.
-- Supporting: Dr. Al-Fida, CNN: "labored breathing, disorientation, hallucination, nervousness and lack of limb control."
-- Supporting: "The Local Co-ordination Committees also reported the use of "bombs containing gases" in Homs. "These gases lead to muscle relaxation, severe difficulty in breathing and the narrowing of the iris..." (which should be a dilation of the pupil). (AFP via news.com.au)

- Against: I don't think BZ is known to tear up the respiratory tract like we see (below) or like described, causing breathing problems, nor is it known to burn the eyes. This could be impurities, additives, or a separate gas loaded into a second shell/grenade. Somehow, this may be two poisons mixed.

Differences on Delivery Device
    Two methods were reported to the consulate. The Cable: "Initial reports said a regime ground vehicle was the delivery method, but later reports said a number of short range missiles were fired into rebel-controlled civilian areas, the cable states." BASMA "couldn’t confirm the delivery method because the gas was dispersed at night and caused mass confusion," and perhaps there was no incoming rocket sound.  It seems both claims came from BASMA, requiring the confusion note. Apparently they didn't like the original story, so that ground vehicle version is of some interest.

    The SOHR heard the white gas came from a "grenade," apparently tossed by hand, and likely from that "regime ground vehicle." As ABC reported, SOHR said "[It] discharged white smoke and would disperse quickly once the grenades were thrown by regime forces. This weapon is unidentified and has not been used before."  The original statement is apparently in Arabic somewhere, quoted in a few news reports, but using different translations. Some say these were "bombs," or "canister bombs," or "grenades" is used in two cases. All agree these bombs were "thrown" (not dropped, launched, or the like), so that they "hit a wall," and it was "during street battles." None of these cites a vehicle involved, so apparently SOHR didn't hear about one. But still, that's my guess.

L: Mystery grenade from April 29 incident. R: JaN policeman spots one
    The munition is not shown, neither rocket nor grenade. But if it's the latter, it might look like this mystery grenade used in chemical attacks five months later, in April, 2013. These were at the time never-before seen. Rebels said they were dropped from a helicopter by regime forces on at least two deadly occasions But otherwise they're used exclusively by Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, as far as anyone's seen. The pro-rebel blogger Eliot Higgins (aka Brown Moses) had to acknowledge this on May 8 when he was sent the photo shown at far right. No one knows where they're made, but Turkey seems likely. (ACLOS)

    These known sighting were in northern Syria, Aleppo and Idlib provinces, again in April, 2013. Could they be used in Homs this early? Well, after the above link to al-Nusra was noted, along with the strange helicopter story and other story problems, rebels in the Damascus area showed a number of these grenades on video, on May 24.  What luck! These were just then captured in Irbeen, they said, from government forces (who allegedly got them from Iran). Brown Moses was pleased. There's no proof they didn't actually borrow these from their local al-Nusra friends.

    Government ownership claim aside, these grenades might be spread wider in space than thought, and maybe in time. This might be what was used back on December 23, as part of the operation anyway, tossed not from a helicopter but from a moving car or truck - a "regime" one, of course.

    Whatever the poison(s) or delivery method(s), both of the consulate's info streams seem to agree the event was singular, it was done by the regime, and it killed a total of seven people.   "BASMA and SLN contacts reported to the consulate that seven people were killed by the dispersed gas and 50 more victims were treated in a field clinic."    

World Reaction: Up and Down
    The story was initially greeted with much enthusiastic "worry" that "Assad" was about to get "himself" bombed. The timing of this matches the later report that the Saudis flew someone to UK in winter 2012-13 to be tested for sarin exposure (Wall Street Journal). This is the most prominent alleged attack NOT by rebels, among a very few such known incident in this span. That would mean the subject was allegedly connected to this alleged sarin attack.

    But for all we know, he's a Jihadi who volunteered to sip (slowly) some diluted sarin, to get their positive result with minimal side-effects. And no clear sarin connection was found, or was never publicized anyway. And it seems this attack was probably not done with sarin - at least, not the parts we've seen.

    Some incident involving a chemical gas is widely credited as happening, but experts in Israel and the West at the time swiftly decided it was nothing important. No banned substances were used, and the event did not constitute a crossing of the "red line" set by President Obama. As NBC News reported on the 24th "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." 

    After a couple of weeks to look into it... experts decided on a "super-strength tear gas" or a riot-control agent, or something, was responsible, somehow. A Dr. Abu al Fida, "who treated about 30 of the approximately 100 people who were affected by the mysterious gas, told CNN for a January 14 report how, as they put it, 
    People who were further away from the source suffered labored breathing, disorientation, hallucination, nervousness and lack of limb control, al Fida said. But those closer to the source of the gas had much more severe symptoms, including paralyses, seizures, muscle spasms and in some cases blindness, he said. Six people were killed by the gas, the doctor said.

Fatality Questions
    Six people died. Or seven. As an official told CNN: "if you breathe in an entire canister, that can have a severe effect on your lungs and other organs."  But why would 7 men each stand there and inhale a whole canister (as the example goes)?

    The question is especially sharp here; As an article at Medscape states flatly "By definition, incapacitating agents are nonlethal. BZ has a high safety ratio. The dose required to produce incapacitating effects is roughly 40 times less than the fatal dose." It  seems very rare, as in, it makes little to no sense these 6-7 people died from it. 

    If they had, the article suggests it would be through hyperthermia (overly-high body temperature), or some zany and dangerous behavior (not in 7 cases). And these are only somewhat possible, after a ridiculously high dose. Such a thing could make sense if we propose it happened in a small enclosed room. But no one has proposed that, and even if you had someone in a gas chamber, why would you opt to use BZ instead of, say, the exhaust pipe from one of your trucks?

    Anyway, if this gas or vapor was spread at random, from a rocket or grenade, it makes no sense to alleged that was BZ. Maybe that was fired somehow, but it's probably not what killed anybody. So far, there's no good explanation offered as to how they wound up dead. It seems like an opposition top secret, lidded over with a couple of failed explanations, taped together with general apathy. And so the issue sat for just a few weeks.

Failed Revival
    But after March 19, 2013, the picture changed abruptly. On the 20th, the Syrian government was demanding an investigation into a fairly obvious terrorist chemical attack the previous day. It seems Syrian soldiers and civilians they guarded were the targets, and at least 20 were killed. States opposed to Syria's government immediately demanded other incidents had to be probed as well, and this was one of two added first. On March 21, representatives of France and the  UK informed the Secretary-General about it, and the next day Qatar also reported  it. So they had to insist on looking at this, and a March 19 attack in Damascus area, as equally urgent as investigating Khan al-Assal.

    More allegations, fresh ones and cold cases, were added into the summer. This plus more slowed the process, but it did continue, and in December, 2013, the UN and OPCW managed to issue a report (PDF). Having by then 16 alleged incidents to look at, they found seven were credible enough to weigh in on, and four of those were lodged by the Syrian government against the foreign-backed militants.

    For the other nine claims, all added by pro-rebel states,  "The United Nations Mission did not receive sufficient or credible information" to declare much of anything, with months to send it in, and after several visits to Turkey and Syria by the mission. These probelematic or too-vague allegations included "Homs on  23  December  2012," and the other urgent first addition, "Otaybah on 19 March 2013." For these nine incidents, nothing further was said.

    And so the issue has sat for the last three years.

The Victims Assessed
    With no secretly-submitted evidence from member states, just what's publicly available, how much credible information can we see? To start, as usual,we'll lean away from words and focus on the visual record, as well as getting a little more specific about who died vs. who lived, and things like this, which sometimes helps see the shape of an alternate narrative that's likely closer to the truth than we ever got at the time.

Surviving Fighters
    I don't think I ever really watched the videos until, now. First, survivors in the clinic, mostly or all fighters, or all adult males, anyway. 

The choking is real: blood in the airways
     One video shows a particular young man suffering genuine-seeming problems breathing. like a fish out of water, eyes wide, gulping breaths, leaking fluids at times - needs the nebulizer,. In another one, we see more patients,  2:35 does not want the inhaler, gulping breaths, strange behavior 2:50 red face, red, teary eyes staring, they each get their eyes rinsed. This video shows the victims have blood in the lungs or airways - drainage tube is inserted through the Islamist's nose, and is soon filled with pink froth (screen grab at right). 

    Suggested: an irritant, causing eye irritation as we see, and the tissue damage in the airways behind that choking. Some patients may also display a delerium or paralysis as with a BZ-type agent. And so this is a better fit than sarin - no SLUDGE syndrome evident - the consulate/SLN version above seems to explain what happened, at least, to the men in this group, if there was also a nasty irritant involved.
State Department cable
All (SLN and BASMA) agreed the contested chemical killed seven people. They would disagree on how that happened, physiologically, since they disagree on the poison. But that doesn't matter. They agree it was the regime.
    The seven dead were buried and videos of their burial "clearly show the absence of visual injuries," the cable stated. 
    They will have suffered chemical injuries, which often leave signs. Which of the two versions, if either, did these support? The question was dodged.

    Here, we'll take a bit of a look at what seems like a third and different case... I'd like to compare these to what a BZ or Agent 15 death look like - could not even find a source. But I can't say the clinical signs are wrong, since I don't know what to look for. What does an atropine overdose look like? That was said to be tried, but worsened the symptoms. What if they worsened to the fatal point? I may come back to this.

The Fatalities
    As noted above, there's a little variation and vagueness in the reported death toll. First of all, it was known and reported from the start, and only rose, if at all, by one victim. The SOHR heard at one point 6 people died, and they were all rebel fighters. Others said 7 died, and they were simply people.
VDC query: 7 victims
    All these are adult males, no women or children were effected that badly, with this random-dispersal rocket strike.  The SOHR heard there were 6 dead rebels, but by this, one is a rebel fighter, and the other six are civilians. As far as I know, it's not explained how and why these guys all wound up together with those surviving fighters, nearest to the rocket's impact, or whatever.

    In fact, it's reasonable to presume these were all fighters, likely gassed by the government, in a way that should have been non-fatal ... so okay, it's still reasonable to note that this is odd. The SOHR heard that, but then everyone else seemed to agree it was just people. Even gender isn't usually given. I initially presumed these were fighters, and the issue therefore didn't seem as urgent. But looking back after learning more, I urge caution with that conclusion. The SOHR claim might have been a guess, not based on any clear info. These might be (mostly) non-militants, who wound up dead in this militant-run area.

    Also from the clinical signs they exhibit, it's not clear they ever did wind up in the same spot as, or suffer the same poisoning as those fighters. It's not even clear that all these dead guys died in the same manner and place as the rest. I think we have at least two different poisons here, and at least two, and likely three or four different pools of affected people. Considering the two different stories of what happened, and noting both might have (sort of) happened, we might now be glimpsing a third and/or fourth segment to the day's chemical shenanigans. This is where the actual deaths happened, in at least one manner that's worthy of some thought, considering the lack of a good explanation thus far.

* Alaa Asad al-Hasan "al-Sharkse"  Non-Civilian, from Bayada, merchant and member of "FSA" - Known as (Abu Asa'ad al-Sharkasi), "Martyred as a result of exposure of toxic / chemical gases thrown by military forces, leading to suffocation. reports to be validated." Video (still at right) - notes: possible eye damage, yellow color? Minor burns or bruises on the forehead? Otherwise, nothing obvious. Clearly, he's been washed for burial, so any mucous, etc. is gone. I have no guess what killed him.

VDC name check (Arabic) "Al-Sharkse" seems to be a fighter nickname; it only appears with 3 entries, all fighters - the other one from Homs was with Jabhat al-Nusra, killed in 2015. 104 Hasans from Homs. That's too many too look at right now. Most recent before him: a misplaced SAA soldier killed in Damascus. What if they were related? Could that - and failing to be clear about it - land this guy in some Islamist gas chamber? It's possible. And that's just a thought exercise.

* Bassam Abu al-Rous civilian, from Rabee Arabi Neighborhood, age 25, unmarried, student. An image of him alive shows him in Saudi-style robes, holding an AK-47 as if firing it) Video (still at right) - notes: mild cyanosis? (purple color - usually shows especially in the lips), and the color seems a little splotchy. Clearly, he's washed for burial, but possible mucous traces remain in his nostrils.

VDC Name check: (Arabic) - 6 al-Rous from Homs to die so far, most with photos. He and the two before all sport beards and the checkered headscarf, others appear Islamist and tended to die with FSA. Others look secular/beardless, and died under torture in regime prisons, date unknown. Hmmm...

* Ehab Asi civilian, from Bayada - video - (still at right) - notes: purple color, in patches? Staining? Bruising? Cyanosis? Possible eye damage (puffy lids). He doesn't seem washed, but no sign of fluids. His hair might "stick up," as if he were hanged upside down for a while and it crusted that way. It may not be an important point here, but it's a real phenomenon I'm watching for, and it's something no Assad missile can do to people who wind up gassed in a rebel-controlled area.

VDC name check: Arabic search - from Homs - 14 total, all civilians except the last two, in 2015 and 2016 (the usual vague "FSA"). It says the civilian majority mostly died in one-off shelling and shooting (by the regime side, of course), but a 42-year-old Asi woman and 85-year-old Asi man were singled out to be massacred by pro-government NDF militias, in Karm al-Zaytoun, 2014-04-09 (VDC lists 15 Homsis field executed this day, previously missed at ACLOS)

* Saber Mando civilian, Bayada - video -  (still at right) - notes: same color issues (cyanosis?), mostly across the forehead. Hair may "stick up," in a crusted way. The victim is fairly thin, may have been ill or deprived of food for a time prior to dying, but maybe he was just a thin guy. Starvation and illness/neglect can easily get extreme when someone is stuck in an Islamist group's dungeon, for example.

VDC lists 33 killed from Homs province with this name. Through 2012 several Mandos were killed in some of the grimmest Homs massacres, with one centered the family of a doctor named Mando, in February. Then there was this sole CW victim in December, then in 2013 some Mandos with the FSA start dying in clashes. Then later Mando civilians around the Houla-Rastan area die at random from "warplane shelling," because rebels are in charge there, as those elsewhere hardly get listed (order is mostly restored in Homs).  

The other three fatalities have no videos or photos.

* Unidentified, civilian (this is likely the 7th person the SOHR didn't hear about, and it seems maybe no one got a name for.
* Ahmad Walid Hamadi, civilian
* Satouf Ibrahim Hamadi, civilian

   It's interesting that the last two have the same family name. This is common, and probably means they were related. The different middle names suggest different father's names, so they're cousins, not brothers. Cousins sometimes might join the opposition together, but here they wound up together in this small pool destined to die. 

    They may have even joined, or tried joining, some rebel faction. But maybe the issue was their refusal to join, or their family at large - and if so, then also these other families - running afoul of someone, having the wrong religion, etc. Maybe some men were kidnapped, then at the right moment, gassed quietly and logged as CW deaths, and used as the first corpses publicly tossed across Obama's Red Line.

    The overall video record suggests: resp. irritant and maybe BZ on the surviving fighters, maybe the same or different for the one who died, and something else, more acute that causes cyanosis, perhaps in a gas chamber, for the civilians.

    Finally, two thoughts on the numbers: In relation to the alleged December 22 attack in Daraya, where 7 soldiers were killed. One possible readin of the Homs incident is it was the government's revenge. A decent script would have sarin, not BZ, in the active role. But it might help clarify the tit-for-tat impression if exactly seven people died in "revenge."

    Then I note we have a record  - a questionable one - of one rebel and 6 civilian males, for seven dead in an Assad CW attack. Almost the same formula emerged in the Otaybah incident in March, but the rebel-looking man was also listed as a civilian, and the last male was a baby and added late. The inclusion of a fighter and otherwise all adult males reported adds to the impression they must all be fighters, who "got gassed" or gassed themselves on accident, and maybe it's not clear or a big deal, and we move on - that's how I felt at first. Glad I was spurred to finally look closer.