For Immediate Release
March 17, 2015
Washington, DC – The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of a chemical agent in Sarmin, Idlib in northwestern Syria and asks the UN Security Council to act quickly to protect Syrian civilians from the use of internationally prohibited chemical agents. Reports from a SAMS-supported field hospital in Sarmin as well as photos and videos from Sarmin showed children, women, and men foaming at the mouth and experiencing extreme respiratory symptoms. There have so far been 6 deaths and over 120 cases of people affected by chemical agent exposure that the hospital has seen.
Child receives treatment at
Sarmin Field Hospital
SAMS staff from the field hospital in Sarmin said that yesterday 2 barrel bombs were dropped by government helicopters on buildings in Sarmin and a chemical agent quickly spread because of the wind. One barrel bomb was dropped at 8:30 PM, falling in the Qaminas area of Sarmin. While doctors and civil defenders were treating people from that attack, another barrel bomb fell at 10:30 PM in a southern neighborhood of Sarmin, hitting a house. Emergency rescue workers, including a SAMS staff member and several SAMS supported medical workers, experienced chemical exposure symptoms trying to help a family stuck in the basement of their home that had been hit. Medical staff and rescue workers experienced symptoms of chemical agent exposure because they were not wearing proper protective gear. The family, including a mother, father, grandmother, and three children all under 3 years old, were injured and experienced extreme difficulty breathing. The entire family later died.
The emergency alert system and chemical weapons response was activated in the city, and the city was evacuated. The field hospital in Sarmin was filled to its capacity. In addition to the 6 deaths, there were over 120 cases of people who needed to be treated for symptoms of chemical agent exposure, including 18 critical cases. Patients experienced coughing, respiratory problems, wheezing, and foaming at the mouth. Several patients were transferred to nearby cities equipped with chemical agent treatment centers. There were another 19 injuries among the paramedics, medical staff, and civil defense teams trying to help. One medical worker was severely affected by symptoms of chemical agent exposure.
Child receiving oxygen for
chemical agent exposure
A SAMS staff member in Sarmin wrote: “While we were working on this report, an old man, age 71 named Abdou Haj Abdou, came to the hospital showing symptoms of gas poisoning. He was given atropine. This was a very difficult rescue mission. The hospital really needs oxygen cylinders because the 20 that the hospital currently has are not nearly enough.”
At this time it is unconfirmed which chemical agent was used, but SAMS medical personnel believe it to be chlorine gas. On March 6, less than two weeks ago, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2209 which condemned in the “strongest terms” any use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria. This is in addition to UN Resolution 2118, which bans the use of toxic chemicals as weapons in Syria. According to a statement issued on behalf of the Security Council, “In the event of non-compliance with resolution 2118, the Security Council would impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.” Chapter VII refers to “action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression” and allows states to use all possible means, including sanctions and state action, to enforce UN resolutions. SAMS calls upon the U.S. government and international community to act with urgency to prevent chemical weapons attacks. “We call on the international community to use all means necessary to end the suffering of the Syrian people and to prevent further use of chemical weapons,” said Dr. Zaher Sahloul, President of SAMS. “No amount of humanitarian assistance will make up for a lack of the will to act by the international community to stop such horrific tactics of collective violence against civilians.”