Next verse, same as the first

Further chemical attacks in Syria?

Yesterday saw further suggested chemical attacks in Eastern Damascus. A series of videos came out (helpfully collected by the always knowledgeable Brown Moses here) purporting to show four of the fighters that were affected by 'sarin.' This was picked up by news media (Government Security News (here) reported them as Time (here), USNI (here) and Huffington Post (here). Twitter as usual ran off the rails, with it's usual hyperbole and invective against anyone who dared doubt the 'truth' - whatever that might be.

This is not the first accusation of chemical weapon attacks since Ghouta, they are about as frequent now as they were before that attack, and it is just as likely that they were used earlier this week as they were in Sheik Maqsood or, Bahhariyeh, The 'lessons identified,' by pundits from the previous attacks should have been that agent identification by video evidence of symptoms is an immature (if not impossible) task. Technically, identification using a high definition camera and utilising some of the same technology that Eyemarker Systems utilises (here) should be possible, but identification by opinion is not. Personally, from our examination of yesterday's videos, it is not 'sarin,' but that is not to say that it is not another chemical agent. Until you can actually get some samples you are at best guessing blind; you might as well try and detect calibre of bullet by smell.

The most important thing for all Syrian observers, as well as the people on the ground, is not to get too 'star struck' by Sarin. There are plenty of other chemicals out there that can be released directly, or indirectly, through military action which will have a damaging effect on the human body. If the people on the ground keep shouting 'sarin,' they do themselves an injustice because potentially harmful attacks will be discounted because the signs and symptoms are not those of a military grade chemical agent.

Yesterday's Twitter vortex will not be the last, there is a currency in making fake videos (or using unseen footage from legitimate attacks) of chemical attacks as much as there is in creating the attacks in the first place. Equally as pro-Assad militias increase (and Brown Moses has some excellent pieces on this via @brown_moses) there is a chance of there being chemical attacks outside of Syrian government control using chemicals that do not originate from Syrian state arsenals. As outside observers we do need to assess each attack, but we also need to embrace the fact that 'I don't know' is not a statement borne of ignorance but of understanding.

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