Syria: NYT, HRW Wrong To Claim Chemical Attack Origin

By b (Moon of Alabama Blog)

Human Rights Watch and the New York Times are trying to implicate the Syrian Arab Army in a chemical incident that happened on August 21 in Ghouta near Damascus. Using the report of an United Nations commission which investigated various sites around Damascus they try to reconstruct from where the rockets suspected to have been used in the attack may have been fired from.

The UN commission identified two finds of largely intact rockets that landed in a way that lets one estimate from which directions these rockets have been fired. Lining out from the impact sites towards the direction from where the rockets came the crossing of the two lines point, say HRW and the NYT, to the possible launch point of both rockets. That point, a Syrian army artillery site, is then seen as implicated in the chemical attack.

When taken together, the azimuths drawn from different neighborhoods lead back to and intersect at Mount Qasioun — so far an impregnable seat of Mr. Assad’s power — according to independent and separate calculations by both The New York Times and Human Rights Watch.

“Connecting the dots provided by these numbers allows us to see for ourselves where the rockets were likely launched from and who was responsible,” Josh Lyons, a satellite imagery analyst for Human Rights Watch, noted in a statement on Tuesday.

“This isn’t conclusive,” Mr. Lyons added. “But it is highly suggestive.”

But that analysis is faulty. At least one of the two rockets the UN commission assessed contained no chemical agent at all. In the whole area where that one rocket was found none of the environmental probe showed any sign of a chemical weapon impact. It is therefore not legit to use that impact as a direction finding point for the launch point of the chemical weapon incident. Before and after the chemical incident the sites the UN visited had been reported to be under conventional artillery attack. There is no conclusive evidence that binds the rocket debris found to the chemical incident.

Specifically the first site the UN commission visited was near Moadamiyah, south of Damascus. The investigators took blood and urine samples from some people they met on their visit there. Those samples proved positive for exposure to Sarin. But all environment samples taken in Moadamiyah proved negative (Appendix 6 and 7 of the UN report. Sample 1 to 12 taken on August 26.) If those person found in Moadamiyah would have been exposed in Moadamiyah the environment there would also have been exposed. But the UN team found that this was not the case. The persons must have been moved to Moadamiyah after having been exposed elsewhere. The 140 mm rocket the UN team assessed in Moadamiyah can thereby not be implicated in the chemical attack.

The second point where the UN team found ammunition and assessed the direction where it came from was in Ain Tarma east/south-east of Damascus. The ammunition debris found there was from a 330 mm rocket. Environmental probes taken in Ain Tarma and from parts of the found rocket debris showed exposure to Sarin. The UN commission report does not explicitly state that the ammunition found carried the chemical agent. It notes that the area was well traveled and that people were seen moving ammunition debris around.

The UN commission report does not say how the chemical agent found in some of the investigated areas was distributed. It does not say that it came from rockets. It identified two impact sites of rockets and directions that allows to assume the direction, not the distance, from where those rockets were fired from. But one of those sites and rockets was never exposed to the chemical agent in question while the other site, and the ammunition debris found there, was. To conclude from these finds that ammunition carrying chemical agents were fired from a specific point or army unit or was fired by rockets at all is not legit but propaganda.

In 2008 Human Rights Watch falsely accused Russia of having used cluster ammunition in the Georgia war even while the ammunition found was easily identifiable as “western” sourced ammunition. C.J Chivers, who wrote the above for the New York Times, has been implicated in propaganda reporting on Syria claiming “poorly armed rebels” while he knew and had seen that those “rebels” had received many modern arms and ammunition from their “western” and Gulf sponsors.

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