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Syria - Inconsistent, Incomplete And Implausible - The OPCW Report On Saraqib Is Another Disgrace

Published: May 17, 2018
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Source: Moon of Alabama

On February 4, two days before a UN Security Council meeting on chemical weapon issues, a Syrian army helicopter flew into Idelb governorate which is held by al-Qaeda. Escaping the quite effective air defenses of the terrorists it dropped two chlorine gas cylinders near a militarily irrelevant agricultural warehouse 40 kilometers away from the front line of the war. Eleven men of fighting age who are living in the al-Qaeda ruled territory were allegedly impacted by the released gas but none of them was seriously hurt.

The implausible story above is the base of a recent report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. All 'evidence' for the tale comes from organizations which tightly cooperated with al-Qaeda and other militant 'rebel' groups in Syria and are paid by 'western' governments opposed to Syria. The implausible story is repeated in the 'western' press without any journalistic skepticism.

The British Guardian writes:

The fact-finding mission by the OPCW on the Saraqeb attack determined that “chlorine was released from cylinders by mechanical impact on 4 February,” it said on Wednesday. The team’s conclusions were based on finding two cylinders that were determined as previously containing chlorine. ...

The incident is by no means the worst chemical weapons attack during the seven-year civil war, but it led to 11 people being treated for breathing difficulties. Western observers said the use of helicopters in the attack suggested Syrian government involvement since the opposition did not have access to helicopters.

Saraqib in Idleb governorate has been in the hands of the Syrian 'opposition' since late 2012/early 2013. In April 2013 Syrian 'rebel' forces alleged that a chemical attack with Sarin took place in Saraqib. However only one person died, allegedly from of Sarin intoxication, while no Sarin traces were found on two other affected persons.

On February 4 2018 new claims were made of a 'chemical attack' in Saraqib. The war front line is far away from Saraqib. No military operation has taken place there for years. The 'chemical attack' allegations came (us usual) at a political convenient time:

Amnesty International has accused the Assad regime of showing “utter contempt” of international law following a chlorine gas attack on the town of Saraqib Sunday. This latest chemical attack comes just one day before the U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a U.S.-proposed statement Monday condemning the continued use of chemical weapons in the war-torn nation.

The Amnesty International report is solely based on anonymous 'witness testimony' from propaganda organizations financed by countries which oppose the Syrian government:

Amnesty International spoke to a volunteer with the Syria Civil Defence who described arriving several minutes after a barrel bomb – the apparent source of the gas – landed in a field 50 metres from an agricultural warehouse. There was no sign of any military targets in the vicinity of the bombing in Saraqeb, which lies in the northwestern province of Idleb and is 41 km from the nearest front-line.

A second member of the Syria Civil Defence team in Saraqeb told Amnesty International that he witnessed the casualties being brought to a medical post. “When they arrived, I saw the rescue team also breathing with difficulty, and they collapsed. The doctors told me that the symptoms of the 11 people - including the three civil defence volunteers - were consistent with a chemical attack, probably chlorine,” he said....

The casualties, all of whom were men, have since been discharged.

 

The so called "Syria Civil Defence" is the White Helmets propaganda organization.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is a intergovernmental organization with the task to implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention. Its acting body is the Technical Secretariat which is currently led by the Turkish career diplomat Ahmet Üzümcü. It is financed by all 192 convention members.

The OPCW report on Saraqib to which the Guardian refers is headlined:

REPORT OF THE OPCW FACT-FINDING MISSION IN SYRIA REGARDING AN ALLEGED INCIDENT IN SARAQIB, SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC ON 4 FEBRUARY 2018(pdf)

There is one immediate problem with the headline. It insinuates that an OPCW fact-finding mission IN Syria took place. However the report itself says that no OPCW fact-finder entered Syria to investigate the alleged incident in Saraqib.

The OPCW fact-finders interviewed 'witnesses' while being outside of Syria. Access to those witnesses was provided by shady "Non-Government-Organizations" which are financed by governments hostile to Syria. All environmental samples tested by the OPCW laboratories were taken by paid 'volunteers' of the White Helmets propaganda organization. There is no documented 'chain of custody' for the samples.

From the report:

On the morning of 5 February 2018, the OP CW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) became aware of allegations of use of a toxic chemical as a weapon in Saraqib, Idlib Governorate. The FFM assessed the credibility of the allegations based on information collected from open sources and information received from several non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

1.2 The FFM interviewed a variety of witnesses including casualties, health workers, and first responders. The team also received environmental samples, which had been collected from the incident location.

Open source material of unknown origin, hearsay from witnesses provided by NGOs which claim that some of their own staff was affected in the incident, and environmental samples of dubious providence is all the OPCW had. That it would base any investigation or report on such weak grounds is already concerning.

The narrative in the report, given by the alleged 'witnesses', is implausible:

5.9 At approximately 21:00, eight men were taking shelter in a basement in the eastern neighbourhood of Al Talil in the city of Saraqib when they heard a notification via radio from a spotter that a helicopter had entered the airspace of Saraqib from the south-east. At approximately 21:15, witnesses reported hearing a helicopter flying above the city and the sound of two “barrels” falling and impacting in close proximity to their location. They also indicated not hearing any explosion.

5.10 According to witness statements, two cylinders (or “barrels” according to most witnesses) fell in an open field surrounded by building structures approximately 200 metres to the south-west of the Agricultural Bank in the eastern part of Saraqib (see Figure 3 below), and 50 to 100 metres to the south-west of the basement mentioned in paragraph 5.9 above.

5.11 Both impact points were in this open field approximately 200 x 200 metres in size, which is in a depression 3 to 4 metres lower than the surrounding urbanised area. The impact locations, as given by witnesses, are shown in Figure 3 below.


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I have highlighted the points in the above quote that let me doubt the story:

  • There are no reports of any Syrian army or air attacks on Saraqib during the last several years. It has been in 'rebel' hands since late 2012/early 2013. The frontlines of the war are far away and have not moved for quite a while. Saraqib is out of reach of the usual battlefield artillery. There was and is no reason for anyone in Saraqeb to take "shelter in a basement" nor is there any reason to have "a spotter" in the area.
  • Just a day before the incident 'rebels' in Idleb shot down a Russian fighter plane. Would the Syrian army risk a helicopter and crew over hostile territory to drop two cylinders with a militarily ineffective gas into an open field far away from the front line and any military position? What for? The Russian air defense radars controls the air space over Syria. Where else should a helicopter have come from?
  • Many MoA readers will recognize this distinct sound of falling barrels (vid). But would one really hear gas canisters falling through the air while sitting in a basement 50 to 100 meters away?
  • The chlorine cylinders that allegedly fell from the air landed in a depression. Chlorine is heavier than air and hugs to the ground. Did the chlorine raise 3 to 4 meters to then creep into a house to then sink down into a basement? How? The description is inconsistent with documented U.S. military experiments (video) in which a large amount of Chlorine released in a depression does not rise beyond 60 centimeters from the ground.

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  • Chlorine, like in toilet cleaners, has a strong smell in even very low concentrations. It effects health only in quite high concentrations. Walking away from a chlorine release and moving to higher ground is sufficient to be safe.

The further descriptions in the report by the 'witnesses' and of the alleged symptoms of the victims by 'medical personal' make likewise no sense.

The UK operated 'White Helmets', (erroneously called the Syrian Civil Defense in the OPCW report), took pictures of two damaged yellow gas cylinders laying in a field and provided various samples to the OPCW. The OPCW gave the samples to two of its certified laboratories to analyze.

Daniel Schulz, a German post-doc scientist specialized in cell biologypoints out several problems with the chemical analyses documented in the OPCW report:

〕Daniel Schulz〔 @daniesch - 11:30 UTC - 16 May 2018

Funny enough, one of the designated laboratories found a lot of "Sarin" breakdown products while the other did not. Table 4

Also, puzzlingly, the report states adamantly that no explosion was heard by "witnesses". How do you explain finding TNT in provided samples then? - Table 4

In addition, recall Chemistry 101. Should Cl2 react with humidity in soil, an increase in Cl- ions is to be expected. But where does excess K+ come from? Almost like somebody poured KCl on the ground? - Table 6

Another startling inconsistency is Cl- content in wipes from the inside of cylinders (red) and how it mismatches with soil contamination (green). - Table 5


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The OPCW report does not answer any of the questions raised above. It instead concludes:

7.4 The FFM determined that chlorine, released from cylinders through mechanical impact, was likely used as a chemical weapon on 4 February 2018 in the Al Talil neighbourhood of Saraqib. ...

7.5 The FFM also noted the presence of chemicals that can neither be explained as occurring naturally in the environment nor as being related to chlorine. Furthermore, some of the medical signs and symptoms reported were different to those that would be expected from exposure to pure chlorine. There was insufficient information and evidence to enable the FFM to draw any further conclusions on these chemicals at this stage.

The last paragraph is devastating. How can the OPCW say that chlorine was "likely" used as chemical weapon when it has no explanation, none at all, for the inconsistencies of the 'witness' reports and the samples it was provided with?

The credibility of the OPCW was already damaged in its investigation of the Khan Sheikoon incident. According to the report of that case half of the 'victims' of the incident arrived in hospitals BEFORE the alleged incident happened. The report noticed, but did not explain, that discrepancy.

Both of the OPCW reports, on Saraqib and Khan Sheikhoun, pretend to deliver clear scientific evidence. Reading beyond the summaries one finds that both are full of inconsistencies and implausibilities. Important questions raised in the reports themselves are not answered. Contradictions in the timelines and the documented evidence are left unresolved. No explanation is given why anyone could have ordered a military attack on targets of zero military value. The conclusions of both reports suggest a degree of certainty that is not justified at all.

Since 2011 the Turkish government of the wannabe Sultan Erdogan  provides support of all kinds for the radical 'Syrian rebels' who attack  the Syrian state. Turkey currently occupies the north-west of Syria and has at least twelve observation points in Idleb governorate. The Turkish government continues to be hostile to the Syrian government under President Assad.

That the ostensible neutral OPCW is led by a Turkish career diplomat while it investigates alleged chemical incident in Syria is already a very problematic constellation. That its reports of such incidents, based on hearsay, shoddy evidence and unverified open sources, then make conclusions that insinuate Syrian government culpability while ignoring serious discrepancies is a disgrace.

It is high time to bring that organization back onto neutral and scientific grounds.

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