For Immediate Release
April 17, 2015
New York, NY – Yesterday morning, the Syrian American Medical Society’s medical coordinator in Idlib, Dr. Mohamed Tennari, and president, Dr. Zaher Sahloul, gave their first-hand and expert accounts of the recent Idlib chemical agent attacks in front of the UN Security Council at an Arria-formula meeting. They spoke alongside Qusai Zakarya, a human rights activist and survivor of the 2013 chemical weapons attack on Moadamiya. The Arria-formula meeting was hosted by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power.
Dr. Mohamed Tennari is a doctor currently working as the Syrian American Medical Society’s medical coordinator in Idlib governorate. A radiologist by training, Dr. Tennari has been working in general emergency medicine to help meet local needs during the conflict and established the field hospital in Sarmin. He addressed five chemical attacks in the Sarmin and Binnish areas of Idlib that occurred between March 16 – 31, including the attack on March 16 in Sarmin that killed a family of six and caused over 120 to seek medical treatment for chemical exposure. About the chemical attack on March 16, Dr. Tennari said, “I heard the helicopters overhead at about 8:30 at night, and an announcement blared through my walkie talkie and through mosque speakers of Sarmin that there were explosive barrel bombs that had been dropped. They said that it was a chemical attack. Voices shouted for people to take care, to avoid the areas in the Qaminas village where explosions had been, and to go to higher ground for safety. I rushed to the hospital and could smell a bleach-like smell as soon as I left my house. About 15 minutes later, patients started to arrive.” He was one of the many doctors and civil defenders who also suffered effects from chemical weapons exposure after treating victims from the incident.
Dr. Zaher Sahloul elaborated on the effects of the chemical attacks, saying, “Barrel bombs filled with choking agents have not been as deadly as those filled with shrapnel and explosives, but they cause a special kind of fear, panic, and confusion. Fifty percent of Sarmin’s population have deserted it after the first toxic bomb even though that the area had near daily attacks with “conventional” barrel bombs.”
Dr. Sahloul returned from a trip to visit the hospitals in Idlib less than a week ago. When recounting the experiences of the victims and medical staff he met with, he described asking them what they needed most from the international community and UN Security Council. “They all said one word at the same time. Protection. Please tell them to protect us,” said Dr. Sahloul.
At the Arria-formula session, the doctors showed a jarring video of the three children who were killed in the March 16 attack suffocating before they died. Ambassador Power said about the Security Council reaction, “If there was a dry eye in the room, I didn’t see it.”Security Council members had an emotional response to video and coinciding testimony, and spoke about the need for the fact-finding mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to move swiftly. Security Council members emphasized the need for accountability measures for perpetrators of the attacks. Ambassador Power said, “Individuals who are responsible for attacks like that will be held accountable. The documentary record is being built, the testimonies are being gathered, and the long arm of justice is taking more time than any of us would wish right now, but this documentary record will be used at some point in a court of law.”
Dr. Tennari will be meeting with U.S. government representatives from the State Department, National Security Council, and Congress over the coming week.
For media inquiries or to set up interviews with Dr. Tennari or Dr. Sahloul, please contact Kat Fallon, SAMSs Advocacy & Communications Manager, at [email protected].