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Dhaka Tribune

Survivors describe horrors of suspected gas attack

Update : 29 Aug 2013, 12:36 PM

The early-morning barrage against rebel-held areas around the Syrian capital immediately seemed different this time: The rockets made a strange, whistling noise.

Seconds after one hit near his home west of Damascus, Qusai Zakarya says, he couldn’t breathe, and he desperately punched himself in the chest to get air.

Meanwhile, in rebel-held areas east of Damascus, hundreds of suffocating, twitching victims were flooding into makeshift hospitals following a similar rocket barrage. Others were later found dead in their homes, towels still on their faces from their last moments trying to protect themselves.

In a series of interviews with The Associated Press after the suspected poison-gas attack on Aug. 21, witnesses, survivors and doctors described scenes of horror they say will haunt them forever.

Witnesses interviewed by the AP say they can’t prove it but strongly believe government forces were responsible, saying that it is consistent with the nature of Assad’s regime and that nobody else had the capability to fire such weapons.”To suggest that the rebels did it is simply ridiculous. ... Why would they hit themselves with chemicals?” asked Ammar, a resident who said he miraculously survived the barrage on Moadamiyeh, where 80 people were killed.

Ammar said he was awakened by shelling around 5am, just before dawn prayers, when he heard a screeching sound unlike anything he had heard before, followed by the sound of people screaming on Rawda street below his apartment. Once outside, he said, he saw a gas with a faint green color. It “stung my eyes like needles.”

“I ran out to see what was going on and saw people in various stages of suffocation and convulsions. I tried to help, but then my legs buckled and I fell to the ground,” he said.

Ammar woke up at a makeshift hospital, previously a Red Crescent centre, where he said he spent five days getting water, oxygen and injections of atropine, which can be used to counteract the effects of nerve gases.

A week later, Ammar said he has not fully recovered. He suffers bouts of cold sweats, exhaustion, hallucinations and a runny nose. Worst of all, he said, were the nightmares.

To the east of Damascus, some 600 patients poured into a makeshift hospital in the district of Arbeen, most of them from the nearby Zamalka area, said Abu Akram, a 32-year-old doctor at the facility. Of those, 125 died, including 35 children, he said.

He said the signs — twitching, foaming at the mouth and nose, constricted pupils — were all clear signs of a kind of nerve gas.

Most of the first arrivals were alive, he said. They were stripped down to their underwear, and doctors poured water on them to avoid contamination. Late arrivals who had been exposed to the gas for a longer time, he said, came in dead. Many of them were children.

Abu Akram said he was told by several medics that some people were found in their homes, with wet towels on their faces or hiding with their children in bathrooms.

“People didn’t die in their sleep; they tried to save themselves,” he said, speaking from the eastern suburb of Arbeen, via Skype.

Mergo Terzian, president of Doctors Without Borders, told AP this week that chemical weapons specialists working with the Paris-based group reviewed the photos and videos and said the symptoms — no sign of trauma, dark patches on the skin, problems breathing — were consistent with a poison gas attack

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