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Syria Snap Analysis: Latest on the "Chemical Weapon" Attacks

Two competing stories have featured in the last 48 hours over Tuesday's "chemical attacks" near Aleppo and Damascus. The first is a statement posted yesterday from the Syrian opposition in which they claim that Echothiophate, a chemical often found in insecticides, was used in both incidents, having been delivered by a Scud missile.

The second narrative, from US officials, is that there was no chemical weapons attack.

Echothiophate is an organophosphate. According to a physician contacted by EA, its effects match some of the symptoms reported from a doctor in Damascus, including bradycardia, vasodilation, nausea and vomiting, and bronchoconstriction. It is a slower-acting compound than some other nerve agents, like Sarin. It is unclear if there are additional symptoms, like involuntary muscle movements, that have been seen in these videos.

Some have suggested that the chemical smells like "rotten cabbage." That is important because people in the Damascus atttack reported a strong odour, albeit one like chlorine.

Here's the video, with English subtitles, where the doctor in Damascus reports that an organophosphate has been used:

In our initial analysis, we noted that the victims do not have severe blisters as you would likely see in a chlorine attack, nor do they exhibit the kind of severe symptoms common with nerve agents.

US officials now cast doubt that any chemical weapon was used at all. According to military intelligence, no Scud launches were recorded on radar at the time of the attacks.

Their theory is that more conventional weapons may have hit chemicals on the ground, inducing severe reactions. We also noted that this is a possibility, and would be the best theory if there were only a single attack. However, two simultaneous incidents in two different locations is highly suspicious, especially since so few of these incidents have occurred during the Syrian conflict.

Yesterday, several media organizations, including The Diplomat, wrote that Syrian State media had reported two chemical weapons attacks, one in Khan an Asal near Aleppo and the other in Damascus. As far as we can tell, this is completely false: Michael Weiss and I found only references in State media to the incident near Aleppo.

As we noted in our initial assessment, the opposition reported these attacks first, despite having no access to the Khan al Asal site. For some reason, the regime is ignoring the attack in Al Otaiba near the capital.

The one detail on which the regime and the opposition both agreed was that a missile landed in Khan al Asal, even if they were divided on the specifics. Now, "classified satellite data" suggests that no such missile was ever fired, according to CNN.

The mystery continues.

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