In the Damascus area

MSF reports neurotoxic symptoms in hospital patients in Syria, according to the BBC.

Medecins Sans Frontieres says hospitals it supports in Syria treated about 3,600 patients with “neurotoxic symptoms”, of whom 355 have died.

The medical charity said the patients had arrived in three hospitals in the Damascus area on 21 August – when opposition activists say chemical attacks were launched against rebels.

But MSF says it cannot “scientifically confirm” the use of chemical weapons.

Scientific uncertainty.

“MSF can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack,” said MSF Director of Operations Bart Janssens.

But it added that the symptoms, as well as the “massive influx of patients in a short period of time” strongly suggest mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent.

Another chapter in the history of human brutality.


  1. says

    From the article:
    “This would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, which absolutely prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons,

    International humanitarian law also prohibits area bombing of civilians.

    All the bullshit about ‘red line’s is the same bullshit we heard about Rwanda when everyone avoided using the word “Genocide” as a fig-leaf to justify inaction. What about a professional military force blowing the living fuck out of its own country’s civilians isn’t red liney enough?

  2. says

    Actually it’s just MSF not jumping to conclusions since they are meant to be bipartisan and because rebels are not particularly “honest”.

    The most ACCURATE portrayal of casualties is from MSF at the moment because the Syrian government’s claiming just 40 deaths and the rebels are claiming thousands.

    However the problem seems to be that MSF’s ground presence wasn’t high and this is just in MSF operating hospitals rather than across the region where mutliple townships were hit.

    The other problem is OPCs (Pesticides) have similar effects to nerve gas and it was an agricultural zone where large stockpiles would exist. A hit could have given everyone a dose however its highly unlikely.

    Basically? MSF are neutral as neutral can be and aren’t allowed to make “claims”. But based on experience the MSF staff there indicate that it’s exposure to a neurotoxin and the aerial delivery system seems more in line with WMDs than “Crop Duster”. MSF has to couch it’s language like this lest they get kicked out. Remember, the problem with nerve gases is the people who get the biggest dose are the ones who stay the longest in the region. AKA Syrian Medics…

    MSF probably don’t want to be kicked out.

  3. lorn says

    Sorry, but you missed it.

    Using chemical weapons is a violation of international law. The problem comes down to having to enforce that law in the middle of a war. How do you collect evidence. How do you prove what was used, by who, where, and when.

    Of course you can entertain fantasies where the good guys magically blow up the chemical weapons, round up the wrong doers, and restore peace. Of course life, and particularly wars, don’t work that way. If you blow them up chemical are released. Troops firing chemical weapons may have no knowledge of what they are firing. And, whatever you do, you have to do it in the middle of a war.

    How do we know the Syrian regime is to blame? There are groups on both sides with rockets suitable for delivering chemical weapons. Yes, Syria is listed as having chemical weapons but sarin is not hard to manufacture. Given the precursors any competent chemist could do it. And the precursors are not exotic or particularly hard to get. There are several sets of instructions on the internet demonstrating the technique.

    Al Qeada has been messing around with chemical weapons for better than a decade. Al Qaeda is fighting along side the other rebels and the rebels are currently losing. people on a losing side of a cause tend to get desperate. Is this a so-called false-flag attack intended to bring the US into the war on the side of the rebels?

    Backed by Iran and well funded and equipped Hezbollah is certainly technically capable if they put their minds to it. They have loads of suitable rockets. They are currently fighting on the side of the Syrian regime. With Hezbollah being Shia, and the rebels being mostly Sunni could Hezbollah being using chemical weapons as a method of extermination. Iran would certainly enjoy watching the US get entangled in this war. Reason enough to stage an attack.

    As always force has its limitations. Anyone can shoot a gun, drop a bomb, draw an circle on a map and blow the crap out of that bit of territory. The trick is hitting what you aim at, knowing where what you want to shoot is, hitting it in just the right time to do some good, and limiting the damage to what you want to destroy. How do you do it without making a mess of it? How do you do it if you don’t have reliable information about what happened and who did it? How do you do it without choosing sides in a war? There are no easy answers.

    The sad fact is that the US national interest is not served by either side winning. If the rebels win Al Qeada and other Sunni extremists will set up a base in Syria. Right next to Turkey. A major ally. If the regime wins Hezbollah and Iran take the territory and gain power. The end that best serves US interests is that the two sides have a protracted conflict over several years, go broke, lose their most experience fighters and their best equipment, and generally pound each other to dust. Once the extremist on both sides have killed each other a negotiated peace may be possible.

    I love when people point to Rwandan as an example of failing to act, as if acting would have surely and reliably improved the outcome. Yes we could have bombed the radio station and a few bridges but it isn’t clear that would have done more than delay the inevitable. The UN had armed troops on the ground and they did nothing. Why must it always be the US who takes the blame for not acting, and messing it up when we do act. It is easy to claim that the magic pixie dust of US involvement would have made a critical difference. It is all just speculation.

    I have yet to see anyone who says we should have “done something” come up with a credible plan for what we should have done. Separating the two sides, given the years of animosity, may have just spread the numbers killed out over time and location. It also means keeping troops between the two sides indefinitely and both sides learning to hate the peacekeepers.

    In Syria it may be best to send in UN investigators and otherwise gather as much information as possible to prepare for war crimes prosecutions after the shooting stops. That is, more or less, how we did it in WW2. Of course, for people raised on stories of superheroes who exact justice with great precision, in near real-time, with little collateral damage prosecuting war crimes years after the fact is thin gruel. But it may be the best anyone can do with a very messy situation.

  4. thephilosophicalprimate says

    @lorn Actually, YOU missed it. As in total reading comprehension fail.

    Nowhere in this post did OB say or imply or hint that this finding justifies any particular military action, nor did she ascribe responsibility to anyone. She simply quoted a story which indicated some (not confirmed) evidence that chemical weapons may have been used, and described this as another chapter in the history of human brutality — which it certainly is, even if the dead and wounded turn out not to have been assaulted with chemical weapons, but only be suffering neurotoxic effects from, say, exposure to toxic chemicals released by the wholesale bombing of the communities where they live.

    Not that I disagree with any of your criticism of Obama administration agenda or the mainstream media’s compliant kowtowing to it. It’s just worth pointing out that none of your criticisms are at all relevant to what OB posted, nor to the careful and balanced, uncertainty-acknowledging BBC story she linked to. Which you’d have realized if you actually read either of them with any care before launching your rant.

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