In Syria, Deadliest Chemical Weapons Possibly Used

Observed symptoms in Syria in line with nerve agent, say experts

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 22, 2013 8:48 AM CDT

(Newser) – Experts are inferring what they can from the reports and videos leaking out of Syria in the wake of a possible chemical weapons attack, and what they're saying isn't good. The Washington Post explains that there are seven types of chemical weapons, the deadliest of which are nerve agents—and that's the type that may have been used, per a senior fellow with the Federation of American Scientists. He describes their effects: "There's muscle twitching. Then, as the muscle twitching gets more and more spasmodic, mucus comes out of the nose and mouth and you basically go into convulsions on the ground. People don’t survive this."

  • Speaking to der Spiegel, two experts point to those very symptoms. One says visible "nasal secretions" are in line with what one would expect from exposure to "potent organophosphates." Another cited "the way their muscles cramp up, first in various parts of the body, then eventually the entire body starts twitching," saying it would be a tough symptom to convincingly fake. Another thing that would be tough to convincingly fake: child victims.
  • Meanwhile, the international community is taking these reports seriously, with 37 countries—including the US, UK, France, and Turkey—calling for the UN team that's already on the ground to be dispatched to the site in question (their hotel is reportedly just a 15-minute drive away). But the BBC isn't holding its breath: The UN team had been authorized to investigate just three locations in the country, and security correspondent Frank Gardner describes the chance that they'll be granted access—in time—as "slim." The "in time" part matters, because, as Gardner explains, the traces of the gas will within days likely dissipate to the point where the UN team wouldn't be able to make a conclusive determination.
  • France has been quite outspoken on the subject, and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius today asserted "there would have to be reaction with force in Syria from the international community" if chemical weapons were indeed used. However, he specifically said ground troops wouldn't be used, and didn't offer any further thoughts, reports the New York Times.

This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens trying to identify dead bodies, after an alleged poisonous gas attack.
This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens trying to identify dead bodies,...   (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)
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