Picture from the opposition Al-Qusayr Media Centre said to show rubble in the Syrian town of Qusayr on May 22, 2013
Picture released by the opposition Al-Qusayr Media Centre is said to show a Syrian man walking in the rubble of the city of Qusayr following air strikes by government forces on May 22, 2013. A group of doctors working in war-torn Syria said Friday its members had seen dozens of patients suffering from what they believe are chemical weapons attacks, saying the number seemed to be rising. © - AL-QUSAYR MEDIA CENTRE/AFP/File
Picture from the opposition Al-Qusayr Media Centre said to show rubble in the Syrian town of Qusayr on May 22, 2013
Nina Larson, AFP
Last updated: May 31, 2013

Doctors record dozens of chemical attacks in Syria

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A group of doctors working in war-torn Syria said Friday its members had seen dozens of patients suffering from what they believe are chemical weapons attacks, saying the number seemed to be rising.

"We have dozens of cases of people hurt in what seems to be chemical attacks, especially civilians," Tawfik Chamaa, a founding member of the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organisations (UOSSM), told AFP.

The organisation, which has dozens of doctors in field hospitals across Syria, said 97 percent of the victims were civilians, and that the cases were mainly concentrated in the suburbs of Damascus.

Referring to a list of 34 suspected attacks, compiled by the group Syrian Human Rights Watch in Cairo, Chamaa said the attacks appeared mainly to be carried out by fighter jets, helicopters and long- and mid-range missiles.

"And it's the regime that is in possession of these weapons," said Chamaa, a Swiss doctor of Syrian origin, adding that the frequency of the attacks appeared to be accelerating.

"Since 2013, we have seen a huge increase in these attacks, and in recent days attacks with chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus are happening practically on a daily basis," he said.

One of the group's doctors, oncologist Mousa al-Kurdi, who works in Cambridge in Britain, told reporters in Geneva that he had seen four patients first hand who he was certain were suffering from a chemical attack.

The four, all from the same family, had been brought to his field hospital from their home in Saraqeb, where a total of 26 people were injured and four died in a suspected sarin attack on April 29, according to Syrian Human Rights Watch.

The first woman to arrive was the 50-year-old mother of eight, he said.

"She was completely unconscious, some evidence of froth on her mouth, no surgical injury whatsoever," he said, going on to describe her "red eyes, very hot... muscle twitching (and) I've never seen pupils so constricted, almost non-existent".

Soon after, the woman's 19-year-old daughter-in-law, who was nine months pregnant, and two of her sons, aged 34 and 14, were brought in, all with similar symptoms.

Lacking the equipment to treat victims of chemical attack, the team arranged for their transfer across the border to Turkey -- the first such patients to be taken out of the country, Kurdi said.

The 50-year-old woman died just minutes after arriving at the Turkish hospital, while the three others survived.

Chamaa called this case a unique opportunity for the international community to gain clear proof of chemical weapons use, since numerous samples were taken from all four patients in Turkey. The body of the woman who died remained there.

A commission set up by UN chief Ban Ki-moon to probe whether such weapons have been used has not been able to enter Syria.

"We have informed the international chemical weapons experts of these four cases so that they can take samples," Chamaa said, but adding that his organisation had not received any clear response and did not know if tests had been carried out.

The UOSSM, meanwhile, has no doubt chemical weapons were being used.

"These clinical elements can only indicate, with 99 percent certainty, an attack with toxic gas," Chamaa said, saying all the symptoms pointed to sarin gas poisoning.

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