23 Aug 2013

‘There will be more chemical attacks like this’

A doctor treating victims of the Syrian chemical attack tells Channel 4 News it was deliberately timed to undermine the arrival of UN weapons inspectors.

Dr Abo Akram said he has treated more than 600 victims in a makeshift hospital since the attack which occurred in the early hours of Wednesday morning. He said 110 of those died, of whom 45 were children and 35 were women.

He believes that the timing of the attack was designed to undermine the arrival of UN weapons inspectors and that the hitherto “lenient” response from the international community could trigger further attacks in the days ahead.

Describing the state of his hospital in Erbeen, a Damascus suburb, Dr Akram told Channel 4 News he saw a “huge number of people” lying on the ground within hours desperate for help. “Some of them were in a state of suffocation; with secretions coming out from their noses and from their mouth. Some of them had narrow pupils.”

Eastern Ghouta, in the Damascus suburbs, where the chemical weapons attack took place, has long been a battleground in Syria’s bloody conflict. It has strategic value for rebels seeking to land their ultimate goal – the capital itself.

But for Dr Akram there is no doubt who was response for this. “This is not the rebels. All of the [attacks] hit towns in eastern Ghouta and came from inside Damascus, from regions that are controlled by the Assad regime.”

He added: “The Free Syrian Army do not have the technical abilities, complicated equipment or chemical agents.”

In which case, why now? Why would the Assad regime commit such an atrocity when the UN weapons inspectors are finally inside Syria, 20 minutes from where it took place?

Dr Akram believes this is in fact a deliberate attempt to undermine the UN presence.

21st century appeasement?

President Obama said today that the US was still seeking confirmation such weapons were used but if proved true the situation would “require America’s attention”.

But this does not wash with Dr Akram either. He believes that international community has become too “lenient” towards Syria and this latest attack is a deliberate attempt to push those boundaries further.

“The general public here feel that no reaction will come from the US or other countries. Everyone is desperate. But they only give us words; they don’t give us deeds.”

“President Assad knows there will be no reaction from international inspectors. He knows they cannot do anything. And I think there will be more attacks in the day ahead.

“I feel that the world has become so lenient towards Syria and I don’t feel that the US will react even though this has crossed a red line.

“This attack was at night while people were sleeping; it was intended to kill this huge number of people. “

Now all eyes are on the international community on how – or whether – to respond.