President Assad denies killing hundreds of his civilians in a chemical attack. Handily, there is an easy way for him to disprove the claims, and to debunk the horrific footage emerging from the Damascus suburbs – of twitching toddlers and unblemished dead mothers, lying where they suffocated; of medics in gas masks desperately trying to revive staring men. A UN weapons inspections team has just landed in Syria. Assad can simply allow the inspectors to visit the site of the alleged atrocity, today, to show that the whole thing’s a hoax, or a terrible accident, thus dealing an irretrievable blow to the opposition’s credibility.
No news organisation has been able to independently verify the number of deaths or the cause. The timing is peculiar, requiring explanation – why would the Assad government carry out a chemical attack on its civilians while UN inspectors are in the country?
Chemical weapons analysts, examining the footage, believe it to be genuine, or at least say it would be almost impossible to fake so many dead. The wounded and dying, among them tiny children and babies, show symptoms of poisoning through asphyxiation, but there is no consensus on what toxin could have caused such casualties. In i, we choose not to print the most upsetting images, and urge caution in viewing the videos online. Some things are difficult to un-see.
Any residue at the site would remain for 48 hours. If Assad allows the inspectors to visit, they could interview doctors and collect blood and urine samples. Ake Sellstrom, head of the inspector team in Syria, says, in quite an understatement: “It sounds like something that should be looked into.”