MESOP NEWS DOCUMENTARY : A History of Sarin Use in the Syrian Conflict

September 6, 2017  – By Eliot Higgins  – Bellingcat

Through the course of the Syrian conflict, there have been multiple allegations related to the use of Sarin as a chemical weapon. While the April 4, 2017 Khan Sheikhoun and August 21, 2013 Damascus attacks are what most people are familiar with, Sarin has been used as a chemical weapon in Syria on multiple occasions, often virtually unnoticed.

This lack of attention on some Sarin attacks has created a false perception that the Khan Sheikhoun and Damascus Sarin attacks were the only time Sarin has been used in Syria. This misperception is often combined with the belief that chemical weapon attacks as a whole are rare events in Syria, when in fact dozens, if not hundreds, of attacks have occurred over the last 5 years of the conflict.

The vast majority of these attacks involve allegations of the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon, with the OPCW-UN Joint Investigation Mechanism (JIM) confirming the use of chlorine as a chemical weapons by Syrian government forces (in addition to confirming use of chemical weapons by ISIS), but what is often under-covered is the number of Sarin attacks, the progression of the use of Sarin in attack, and their relationship with one another.

While there’s no exhaustive list of chemical attacks in Syria, a number of individuals and organisations have attempted to produce as complete a list as possible. When compiling a list of this type, there are a number of challenges, in particular the reliability of sources. Although there have been dozens of chemical attacks alleged in Syria, only a handful have been investigated by international bodies. Therefore, for the most part, reports are based on claims and documentation by local activists, defectors, and investigations by journalists. While this article attempts to review the use of Sarin in the Syrian conflict, it is possible that there are more incidents of Sarin use, but the attack was too poorly documented to identify the use of Sarin.

The First Signs of Sarin?

Data from various sources, including declassified material from French intelligence, a timeline from the Arms Control Association, and The Havard Sussex Program on Chemical and Biological Weapons, points to 2012 as the year with the first allegations of chemical weapon use in Syria, and one of the first allegations of use of Sarin being a December 23, 2012 incident in the Khaldiyeh and Bayada neighborhoods of Homs. Several videos posted online showed the victims of the attack (playlist), with one video published with English subtitles:

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