Fears of food, water poisoning after Damascus chemical weapons attack

Residents of Syrian capital afraid poison gas from alleged strike is contaminating agricultural land supply.

By REUTERS
August 25, 2013 22:36
3 minute read.
Syrian refugees fill buckets with water.

Syrian refugees fill buckets with water 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user uxperience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew, Ivrit
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Repor
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

DAMASCUS - Days after a suspected poison gas attack killed hundreds of people in crop-growing suburbs, residents of the Syrian capital say they are afraid their food and water supplies may be contaminated.

Western countries believe President Bashar Assad's forces carried out the worst chemical weapons attack since Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds in 1988. Syria's government denies any role in the deaths and blames rebels.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


Whoever is to blame, grandmother Hana said her three daughters were now fretting about what to feed their children.

"They keep calling me throughout the day, and they are frantic. They ask: 'Mum, what about the watermelon? Does it absorb the chemicals? What about the milk?' I try to calm them down, but I'm very worried myself. What if it takes years for any effects to show up in the children?" she said.

The poison gas hit the Ghouta area, where acres upon acres of agricultural land supply the capital of 3 million people with fresh vegetables, meat and dairy.

"I hope God will protect us. Because I would really rather plant my own tomatoes and vegetables, but how will they grow in my third floor apartment? I don't even have a balcony," said Um Hassan, another grandmother.

She it was the first time she was seriously worried about food contamination since the US-led invasion of neighboring Iraq made Syrians fear contamination of imported food.



The Syrian authorities have yet to respond with any clarity about whether people need to take special precautions to protect themselves from possible contamination.

It is not yet clear what poison or mixture of poisons were responsible for the killings.

Sarin, which the United States and France believe was used in previous, smaller incidents in Syria, mixes with water. People can be exposed to it by touching or drinking contaminated water, according to the website of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People can also be exposed by eating contaminated food.

"Do we have to keep our windows closed? How long does the poison stay in the air? I hear different things from people," said 40-year-old man who works as a physical therapist and lives less than a 15-minute drive from one attack.

"Do we have to worry now about leaving the city? Are we considered contagious?" he said.

UNUSUAL FEROCITY

Damascenes say the night of the poisoning, before dawn on Aug 21, saw some of the loudest and most continuous bombardment of the war.

"Where I live, we usually hear missile fire, and we hear it pierce the air above us, and we hear it land in a thud and explode," said a resident of Rukn al Din, where government artillery fires upon nearby Jobar, a rebel-held area in Ghouta.

"But on Wednesday, I swear we heard it from new angles and new places. It felt like the missiles were firing from all over the city onto Ghouta," he said.

Whether Damascenes blame the government or the rebels for the poisoning generally depends on which side they support.

"I couldn't say who did it ... But each side speaks with the same conviction, blaming the other side. And we just want this to end. We're exhausted," said Um Hassan.

Now that US President Barack Obama is considering a response, residents also have the prospect of Western military action to contend with, after two and a half years of a war that has already killed 100,000 people.

Ahmad, displaced for months into Damascus from Moadamiyeh, another of the suburbs where the chemical attack took place, said he no longer "cares what happens".

He now shares one room with his wife and their five children in the basement of a downtown Damascus building where he works as a superintendent.

"We've lost so much. We have no idea what the status of our home is. We can't reach our neighbors who still live in our street ... And you're asking me what I think about America coming? Things can't get much worse."

Related Content

July 16, 2018
‘A strong message to Iran from Israel’: Syrians debate Aleppo airstrike

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN