(ALEPPO, Syria) — Lying in a hospital bed north of Aleppo in Afrin, Yasser hasn’t been told that his wife and children are dead, as his doctors don’t think he can handle the shock in his fragile state. His home was bombarded on April 13 by what he calls “chemicals in the air.”
For months, opponents of the Assad regime have accused the Syrian military of using unknown chemical weapons in rebel controlled territories, such as in Homs, Damascus and Aleppo. The Syrian government said rebels deployed a chlorine-based agent in Aleppo last month, and formally requested that the U.N. send observers to investigate, but it hasn’t granted permission for the team to enter.
Given that the Obama administration has repeatedly stated that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be considered a “game changer,” confirmation that these weapons have been deployed could significantly alter the course of Syria’s war.
Dr. Hassan, director of a hospital in Afrin who did not want his full name used, said he did not have evidence about who was responsible for the attack, or what kind of chemical was released. But he said the symptoms and treatment clearly indicate that chemical agents were used. Medical personnel involved refused to give their last names, citing fear of retaliation.
A Kurdish journalist who filmed the aftermath of the attack in Afrin was also recuperating at the hospital. He said there were two canisters in the house, one plastic and the other metal, with valves used to deploy the gas. He added that residents in the area say they heard a helicopter earlier that night, but none of the survivors confirmed the presence of a helicopter immediately prior to the strike.
Yasser’s neighbors were the first to respond, and they described smelling a sharp, bitter odor that stung their eyes when they entered the home. One of the men tried to carry the baby, but collapsed once he reached him.
The two children died shortly after the attack. Their mother survived for a few hours, but her heart stopped at the hospital in Afrin, according to Turki, an anesthesiology technician.
Yasser’s neighbors told him that the house was intact, that the bomb was just gas and didn’t cause much damage.
“I wish my whole house was destroyed rather than have to deal with this smell,” he said. “I just want to know that my wife and children are fine.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
Chandrika Narayan and Steve Almasy, CNN
Euan McKirdy and Marilia Brocchetto, CNN