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Syria: Evidence of a fresh war crime as chlorine gas attack kills entire family

    March 17, 2015

    Eyewitnesses to an alleged chlorine gas attack last night in Idlib, northern Syria, have told Amnesty International about the horrific death of an entire family, including three children younger than three years of age.

    Scores of other civilians were exposed to toxic chlorine gas in two apparent chemical weapons attacks allegedly carried out by government forces in and around the town of Sermine, Idlib, last night, eyewitnesses said.

    “These horrific attacks that resulted in civilians, including small children, suffering excruciating deaths, are yet more evidence that the Syrian government forces are committing war crimes with impunity. The situation in Syria must be referred to the International Criminal Court as a matter of urgency,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Program Director at Amnesty International.

    Around 100 people in all were exposed to toxic levels of chlorine after Syrian armed forces helicopters dropped four barrels containing the gas in two attacks on Sermine and nearby Qmainass between 9:15PM and 11:00PM on 16 March, according to eyewitnesses. The injured included a small number of fighters from the Free Syrian Army armed group, but the vast majority were civilians.

    A Syrian military spokesperson has denied responsibility for the attacks.

    A doctor and a civil defence worker told Amnesty International that those affected by the attack had no injuries associated with explosive weapons, but showed symptoms characteristic of a chemical weapons attack, including reddened eyes, shortness of breath, continuous coughing, respiratory distress, vomiting, and drooling from the mouth.

    A civil defence member who responded to a home near the attack site in Sermine told Amnesty International: “The smell was horrible. We evacuated people. We were told that a family lives in the basement. Three of us went down the stairs. I took one breath and then when I took the second my throat burned, my eyes started burning. We didn’t have masks. We don’t have special clothes. I couldn’t proceed. I was holding my breath but couldn’t hold it further. I saw a woman on the stairs. She was blue and was not breathing. We evacuated her and a minute later the next team went in and evacuated the other family. They were wearing masks that is why they were able to go all the way down. They evacuated the father, mother and three babies. They all died.”

    The names of the family members who were killed are Warf Mohammad Taleb, his mother Ayoush Hassan Qaq, his wife Ala al-Jati, and their three children: Sara Taleb, A’isha Taleb, and Mohamad Taleb.

    A local activist posted video footage from a hospital in the aftermath of the attacks. It shows a dying infant lying naked on a table and the limp, naked bodies of the other two Taleb children being brought in and placed on top of their mother’s corpse on a hospital bed.

    In September 2013, after hundreds of people died in alleged sarin gas attacks on Ghouta, outside Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention and pledged to destroy the country’s stockpile of prohibited chemical agents.

    However, a year later, in September 2014, an Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission found “compelling confirmation” that a toxic chemical was used “systematically and repeatedly” as a weapon in villages in northern Syria earlier last year.

     

    For further information contact John Tackaberry, Media Relations
    (613)744-7667 #236  jtackaberry@amnesty.ca