25 Aug 2013

Syria ‘gas attack’: girl in coma reunited with grandmother

A young girl in a coma, believed to be a victim of an alleged gas attack in Syria, is reunited with her grandmother. Channel 4 News reporter Inigo Gilmore has the full story.

Warning: You may find details in this report distressing

A distressed Syrian woman approaches the bed and peers over at the fragile four-year-old girl lying unconscious with a respirator strapped to her face.

Momentarily Mrs Qiblawi turns away, choking back tears. Asked if the seriously ill child is her granddaughter she says simply: “Yes, it’s Miriam.”

‘Immediate family wiped out’

The brief flicker of elation that registers upon discovering her beloved granddaughter quickly gives way as the grim reality of her condition – and the horrific fate of her loved ones – comes crashing in.

Clearly in some distress, Mrs Qiblawi explains that Miriam’s immediate family have almost been completely wiped out – like so many others succumbing to the toxic poison which filled the air in this area last week. “Her father and brother and sister are dead,” she says solemnly.

Read more: New Syria 'gas attack footage shows girl in coma'

On Saturday Channel 4 News showed images of this same seriously ill child but at that time we did not know her identity. Doctors believed that Miriam’s entire family had perished. Tragically, they were not far off the mark.

Miriam’s fate is only part of the agony Mrs Qiblawi has had to endure in recent days following the apparent attacks by Assad forces which have triggered international outrage.

Producing a set of small snapshots of her grandchildren she explains that Miriam’s cousins, who had already lost their father, have all been killed too. “My other son’s wife was also killed with his three children,” she explains.

She was referring to the horrific attack last week in eastern Damascus which allegedly involved chemical weapons. It left hundreds dead and many more, like Miriam, seriously ill.

Syria to let UN inspect attack site

Syrian state media said on Sunday that the government had reached an agreement with the United Nations to allow a UN team of experts to visit the site the attack. The Assad regime has gone on a PR offensive to deny it carried out this attack.

But a senior US official has said inspections are now too late to be credible. The White House stated it had “very little doubt” it was the Assad regime behind the chemical attack.

The question is whether the much-vaunted “red line” has been crossed, after which America has promised a “serious response from the international community”. But the stakes are high and in turn Iran has threatened the US with “severe consequences” if there is any kind of military intervention.

Read more: Syria to let UN inspectors examine attack site

Even if there is not some kind of intervention it will come too later for the families in Douma, a name now forever linked with Syria’s unending horror.

Just outside Damascus, in the area of the chemical attack itself the streets of Douma – were all but deserted on Sunday.

Thousands have fled to attempt the crossing into Jordan. For those who remain many families, fearful and struggling to keep even the most basic supplies, hide inside the area has been without electricity for months now.

‘Pumping toxic gas out of body’

Back at the field hospital in Douma a Channel 4 News cameraman finds another child who has been unconscious since Wednesday. Like Miriam, Ali is four years old. Medical teams have been pumping toxic gas out of his body for five days, in a desperate attempt to save him.

At one moment reddish brown liquid spews from the right side of Ali’s mouth as his body thrashes about. Two medical staff step forward to wipe his face and comfort him. To the amazement of the medical staff some minutes later Ali’s eyes suddenly open and he is awake.

Still clearly disorientated, his eyes staring blankly ahead, he is able to say his name over and over again – and where he comes from- but he cannot manage anything else.

Read more: Iran warns US 'not to cross red line' over Syria

What he does not yet know is that he is now all alone, his entire family wiped out in an instant in last Wednesday’s attack which claimed the lives of so many children and their parents.

Ali’s doctor said: “We are trying to extract the gas from his system, as you can see, and there are signs that gas has been used. We think nerve gas has been used.”

As for Ali’s fate there was little his doctor could say by way of comfort. “This child is the only left who has survived out of a family of 40 people. He was brought here by his uncle. They are they only two who survived. All his family have passed away due to the chemical gas.”

Inigo Gilmore is a journalist specialising in foreign NEWS working for Channel 4 news. Follow him on Twitter @inigogilmore