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The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack

Insomma esistono o non esistono questi siti di produzione di armi chimiche in Siria che hanno motivato gli attacchi missilistici di Usa, Francia e Gran Bretagna? Abbiamo prove certe, hanno dichiarato (con l’approvazione della NATO ma non quella dell’Onu) prima di bombardare. Perché allora non le hanno esibite? Da parte loro, come è noto, sia il governo di Assad sia Iran e Russia negano sostengono che si tratta di una montatura con dovizia di precedenti (vedi le armi di distruzione di massa attribuite a Saddam prima dell’invasione dell’Iraq). E anche in Occidente i dubbi non mancano, come si può dedurre dal post e dal video allegati.(nandocan)

**di Robert Fisk, 17 aprile 2018 – This is the story of a town called Douma, a ravaged, stinking place of smashed apartment blocks – and of an underground clinic whose images of suffering allowed three of the Western world’s most powerful nations to bomb Syria last week. There’s even a friendly doctor in a green coat who, when I track him down in the very same clinic, cheerfully tells me that the “gas” videotape which horrified the world – despite all the doubters – is perfectly genuine.

War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.

As Dr Assim Rahaibani announces this extraordinary conclusion, it is worth observing that he is by his own admission not an eyewitness himself and, as he speaks good English, he refers twice to the jihadi gunmen of Jaish el-Islam [the Army of Islam] in Douma as “terrorists” – the regime’s word for their enemies, and a term used by many people across Syria. Am I hearing this right? Which version of events are we to believe?

By bad luck, too, the doctors who were on duty that night on 7 April were all in Damascus giving evidence to a chemical weapons enquiry, which will be attempting to provide a definitive answer to that question in the coming weeks.

France, meanwhile, has said it has “proof” chemical weapons were used, and US media have quoted sources saying urine and blood tests showed this too. The WHO has said its partners on the ground treated 500 patients “exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals”.

At the same time, inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are currently blocked from coming here to the site of the alleged gas attack themselves, ostensibly because they lacked the correct UN permits.

Before we go any further, readers should be aware that this is not the only story in Douma. There are the many people I talked to amid the ruins of the town who said they had “never believed in” gas stories – which were usually put about, they claimed, by the armed Islamist groups. These particular jihadis survived under a blizzard of shellfire by living in other’s people’s homes and in vast, wide tunnels with underground roads carved through the living rock by prisoners with pick-axes on three levels beneath the town. I walked through three of them yesterday, vast corridors of living rock which still contained Russian – yes, Russian – rockets and burned-out cars.

Rubble fills a street in Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, near Damascus (AP)

I first drove into Douma as part of an escorted convoy of journalists. But once a boring general had announced outside a wrecked council house “I have no information” – that most helpful rubbish-dump of Arab officialdom – I just walked away. Several other reporters, mostly Syrian, did the same. Even a group of Russian journalists – all in military attire – drifted off.

It was a short walk to Dr Rahaibani. From the door of his subterranean clinic – “Point 200”, it is called, in the weird geology of this partly-underground city – is a corridor leading downhill where he showed me his lowly hospital and the few beds where a small girl was crying as nurses treated a cut above her eye.

“I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”

Oddly, after chatting to more than 20 people, I couldn’t find one who showed the slightest interest in Douma’s role in bringing about the Western air attacks. Two actually told me they didn’t know about the connection.

But it was a strange world I walked into. Two men, Hussam and Nazir Abu Aishe, said they were unaware how many people had been killed in Douma, although the latter admitted he had a cousin “executed by Jaish el-Islam [the Army of Islam] for allegedly being “close to the regime”. They shrugged when I asked about the 43 people said to have died in the infamous Douma attack.

The White Helmets – the medical first responders already legendary in the West but with some interesting corners to their own story – played a familiar role during the battles. They are partly funded by the Foreign Office and most of the local offices were staffed by Douma men. I found their wrecked offices not far from Dr Rahaibani’s clinic. A gas mask had been left outside a food container with one eye-piece pierced and a pile of dirty military camouflage uniforms lay inside one room. Planted, I asked myself? I doubt it. The place was heaped with capsules, broken medical equipment and files, bedding and mattresses.

Of course we must hear their side of the story, but it will not happen here: a woman told us that every member of the White Helmets in Douma abandoned their main headquarters and chose to take the government-organised and Russian-protected buses to the rebel province of Idlib with the armed groups when the final truce was agreed.

Pubblicato da nandocan

Mi chiamo Fer nando Can cedda. Il nome del sito è un facile omaggio a Sandokan, eroe letterario di un’infanzia remota. Sono nato a Cagliari l’8 Maggio 1936. Nelle strade italiane si festeggiava la precaria conquista di una colonia africana. Sardi erano i miei genitori e così i loro ascendenti, solo la nonna materna era di Firenze. Devo forse a lei se la famiglia si trasferì in quella meravigliosa città e lì sono cresciuto, primo di cinque fratelli. Studi classici e laurea il Giurisprudenza. Il babbo, funzionario statale, voleva fare di me un magistrato ma io ero aspirante giornalista già dal liceo: scrivevo, ciclostilavo e distribuivo il giornalino scolastico. La prima “vera” redazione è stata, nel 1962, quella del “Giornale del Mattino“. Era la stagione di una Firenze culturalmente vivace e cosmopolita, del sindaco La Pira e di don Lorenzo Milani,. Io avevo già lasciato l’Azione Cattolica per il “Cenacolo” di Padre Ernesto Balducci. Scrivevo per “Testimonianze”, una delle riviste del “dissenso” cattolico. E fu proprio padre Balducci a benedire – nel dicembre del ‘64 – il mio matrimonio. Un anno dopo, con una sposa appena laureata in lettere e una figlia di poche settimane, viaggiavo verso Roma a bordo di una Fiat “850”. Assunto con selezione pubblica dal telegiornale RAI, l’unico allora in Italia, direttore Fabiano Fabiani. A trent’anni entrai nella redazione del mitico “TV7″, il sogno di ogni giovane giornalista. Nel 1969 la nomina a “inviato speciale”, secondo e ultimo gradino della mia carriera professionale. E la nascita del secondo e ultimo figlio, nel medesimo anno. Nel 1976 l’invito di Andrea Barbato a entrare nella prima redazione del “TG 2“, invito accolto ovviamente con entusiasmo. Pochi anni dopo, con l’avanzata implacabile della lottizzazione, Barbato venne costretto ad andarsene e l’entusiasmo cominciò a venir meno. Chi non aveva “santi in parlamento” poteva affermarsi solo se molto disponibile e io non lo ero. Al contrario, mi impegnavo nel comitato di redazione, nell’Usigrai, mi esponevo nelle assemblee. Riuscii a salvarmi professionalmente lavorando nelle rubriche e nei servizi speciali, occupandomi, spesso con soddisfazione, di cronaca, di cultura, di costume, di religione. Finché al TG 2 sopravvisse dignitosamente il giornalismo d’inchiesta, ci fu ancora modo di divertirsi, o almeno di lavorare con serietà. Nel ’96, sotto la direzione di Mimun, scelsi lo “scivolo” e la pensione anticipata. Da allora continuo a fare il giornalista, soprattutto su Internet, ma a titolo gratuito e volontario e lo stesso vale per il servizio che ho sempre reso ai colleghi negli organismi della categoria (ordine, sindacato). Nell’ottobre del 2013, ho compiuto 50 anni di professione. E’ dal 1994 che aspetto l'”Ulivo“. Nel 2008 mi sono deciso per la prima volta a entrare in un partito, il PD, per aiutarlo a diventare davvero “nuovo”. E sono diventato nonno.

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