The video shows men gasping for breath and women with oxygen masks. Children lie on a table, squirming and crying. The culprit: an industrial canister containing chlorine.
Days after the event, both sides in Syria’s civil war are trading accusations over who was responsible for the attack that killed two in the village of Kfar Zeita, near Hama, on Friday and Saturday. But while the circumstances remain murky, both government and rebels have confirmed that chemical weapons have been used again in Syria.
Videos showing the aftermath of the attack, released by the opposition, could not be verified by The Independent, but it is thought that the attack involved the use of chlorine gas.
State television blamed the attack on al-Qa’ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and said dozens had been killed. Opposition activists blamed the regime, but said there were only two casualties. The Syrian Opposition Coalition said reports suggested “scores of civilians, including children, show symptoms including asphyxiation.”
Among the alleged footage of the attack is a video which suggests the delivery device for the chlorine was a barrel bomb dropped by helicopter.
The Syrian government has used barrel bombs – improvised bombs made out of petroleum cans filled with explosives – on a large scale over the last few months. This delivery mechanism means the possibility that Jabhat al-Nusra was behind the attack is “unlikely”, says Eliot Higgins, a UK-based researcher. Jabhat al-Nusra does not have access to helicopters.
Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, said the United States was looking into the claims, and the UK is also investigating. But nobody has heeded a call by the Syrian Opposition Coalition, to have the event investigated by the UN.
A joint mission by the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is set to destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons by 30 June, but has missed several intermediate deadlines.