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'I Haven’t Seen Such Death in My Whole Life': Syrian Activist Details Alleged Chemical Weapons Attack

The Syrian opposition says government forces fired poisonous gas into the rebel-held neighborhoods of Ghouta, killing hundreds of people.

A bloodied Syrian flag.
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The following transcript is taken from Democracy Now!'s August 23rd broadcast.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations is pressing Syria to allow U.N. inspectors immediate access to investigate allegations a deadly chemical weapons attack took place Wednesday on the outskirts of Damascus. Syrian rebels say government forces fired rockets laden with poison gas canisters into rebel-held neighborhoods. The government of Bashar al-Assad has denied responsibility. The alleged attack occurred just days after U.N. inspectors arrived in the country to investigate previous attacks said to have involved poison gas. Estimates of the death toll from the alleged attack on Wednesday range anywhere from 100 to up to 1,600. Video posted on YouTube this week shows frantic scenes of overwhelmed hospitals, dead children and countless bodies. If confirmed, Wednesday’s attack would stand to be the most violent incident in Syria since the rebel uprising began two years ago.

In an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo that aired today, President Obama described the alleged attack as a "big event of grave concern."

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale—and, again, we’re still gathering information about this particular event, but it is very troublesome. And then—

CHRIS CUOMO: There’s strong proof they used them already, though, in the past.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Then that starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region. So, you know, I think it is fair to say that as difficult as the problem is, this is something that is going to require America’s attention, and hopefully the entire international community’s attention.

AMY GOODMAN: To find out more about the situation in Syria, we’re joined by two guests. Razan Zaitouneh is in Syria, lawyer, human rights activist. She works with the Human Rights Violation Documentation Center. In 2011, she was co-recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Patrick Cockburn is a longtime Middle East correspondent for the London Independent. He just returned from Syria last month. His most recent  article for The Independent is called "The Evidence of Chemical Attack Seems Compelling—But Remember—There’s a Propaganda War On." He’s joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from Ireland.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I want to turn first to Syria. I want to turn first to talk about what actually is happening in the area of the alleged chemical attack, Razan Zaitouneh, which is where you are. Tell us what you saw.


First of all, just let me explain a bit about our area. This liberated East Ghouta is being shelled every day from air and land, and is—and under brutal siege. For more than 10 months, there’s no electricity, no communications. Hospitals and other facilities are using generators only when there is a fuel. All medications have expired or were run out time ago. This siege prevented locals get even any bread. With all this terrible human conditions, the regime launched a chemical attack on civilians two days ago.

At the beginning, we thought that it’s like the previous times, that there will be only dozens of injured cases and number of murders, but we were surprised by the great numbers which the medical points received during only the first half of hour following the shelling. Things started to become clearer after that. Hours later, we started to visit the medical points in Ghouta to where injured were removed, and we couldn’t believe our eyes. I haven’t seen such death in my whole life. People were lying on the ground in hallways, on roadsides, in hundreds.

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