I’m  M.H from Ghouta, Damascus, and I worked as a journalist

I’m  M.H from Ghouta, Damascus, and I worked as a journalist. I was a victim of chemical weapons attack in Ghouta on August 21, 2013.

On August 20, the day was relatively calm, as we were accustomed to periodic shelling by the Syrian regime forces, either with artillery or airstrikes. However, that day was different. You could only hear occasional gunfire, clashes on the front lines, but the usual shelling did not occur. There were no warplanes in the sky, only reconnaissance planes.

We were always familiar to the fact that calm meant the regime was preparing for something. I remember that everyone in Zamalka was afraid of an imminent regime incursion. They were preparing their forces and reinforcing their presence on the front lines. Therefore, there was a sense of caution among the rebels, and the medical teams were on semi-alert.

At that time, I was a reporter for Alaan TV channel, based in Dubai, and I was ready to cover any event or developments that might occur. But I never imagined that the event would be a chemical weapons attack.

The night of the twenty-first of August was calm and pleasant. I remember that two of my roommates and I went to a bakery in the town of Kafar Batna. We brought baked food and ate them late at night around 1:00 am, and until that hour, the day was unusually relaxing for us.

When I returned home around 1:20 am, standing at the entrance of the building, I heard the sound of the first shell explosion, but it was a strange sound compared to the usual. Typically, the sound of a shell explosion is loud with a blast that shakes windows and trees. But that sound resembled the burst of a water-filled balloon thrown from above, deep as if it exploded in a water well.

I was surprised by the explosion of two shells in a strange way, but I didn’t pay much attention. When I went upstairs, the medical team called me after about 10 minutes. They said, “Come to the medical point, there are chemical injuries.” I asked if there were many injuries, and they told me, “Yes, a lot.” For your information, the area had witnessed chemical attacks before, but the number of casualties ranged from five to ten, approximately ten.

On August 21, they told me there were around twenty injuries at once, and I immediately said I was coming. I rode my bike and headed to the medical point, only to be surprised that the number there was much larger than 20, maybe more than 150 people. The scene was shocking.

Within minutes, the number became hundreds, all people staggering as if it the end of the world day. Many turned into paramedics. Every person who owned a car began helping in picking up the injured from the site of the bombing to the medical points.

At first, I went as a television reporter to cover the attack and document casualties with photos. However, the magnitude of the scene immediately pushed me to become a paramedic. It was unreasonable to see people dying, and I could only film them. I tried to help with my experience in first aid.

I remained helping until around 3:30 am. At that point, I felt that I was losing control of myself and that I would turn from a paramedic to a victim. This was because of the gas spread in the air and direct contact with the victims whom their clothes were contaminated with sarin gas.

This affected many paramedics, and some of them lost their lives while trying to save people. What helped me endure was my regular intake of atropine injections and bronchodilators, but the visual disturbance and loss of vision reached a point where I could no longer bear it. I returned home with extreme difficulty, took a quick shower, and rested for about two or three hours until I regained my clear vision.

After regaining consciousness, I went back to the medical point and saw what no one would not wish to see. The numbers of bodies were dozens before I left at night, but this time I saw hundreds of bodies scattered on the ground. The bodies were distributed at medical points in Arbin, Hamouriyah, and Kafar Batna because the hospitals in Zamalka, Ayn Tarma, and Jobar were unable to accommodate such numbers.

I took a tour to all the areas where the victims were taken. I cannot describe the feeling, the feeling that you are a survivor, and before you there are hundreds of victims whose increasing numbers you want to count every hour, such a painful feeling.

Nearly every hour, I had to participate in a television interview to update the statistics and the situation. Especially since the regime took advantage of the doctors’ announcement for people to leave low places and those residing in lower floors or basements to move to the rooftops because the gas is heavier than air. This way, the gas density in higher places would be less, and he started shelling the area with rockets and artillery. Unimaginable brutality, even those who survived the gas attack he intended to kill them with conventional missiles. so, people were forced to stay in the basements to protect themselves from the shrapnel of the bombing.

The location of the strikes was about 800 to 900 meters away from my house and about 500 meters away from the medical point. The majority of the victims were civilians, and the targeted area in Zamalka was purely civilian, the poorest area in the city called “Al-Mazraa,” which is a densely populated residential area.

I was one of those who turned into paramedics. I tried to help in evacuating families that were sleeping in their homes. Some of the scenes I witnessed, I remember a whole family, whom were sleeping on their beds, covered with light blankets. I saw them all dead without blood, killed by sarin gas while sleeping in their beds.

Those who survived were those who felt the shelling and woke up or those reached by rescue teams before the gas affected them. Regarding the victims and the injured, the majority were civilians, and the word “civilians” includes women, children, the elderly, and even young people. I am sure of this information 100 percent.

According to the situation, just in Zamalka I estimated that more than ten thousand injured people delivered to the medical point. Whereas the deaths were 535, including those who arrived dead and those who died at the medical point.

The area turned into a ghost town after the first few hours of the attack, most people even the injured who left after receiving treatment because they would not find a place to sleep in the medical point. They fled to areas far from Zamalka, specifically to the farms area in the Ghouta.

The streets were empty except for some cars whose drivers were trying to pick up the bodies from place to place and some vehicles for digging mass graves. Of course, mass graves are still there.

In Zamalka, more than 900 people were buried. Some were also buried in Arbin, and some may be in the cemetery of Kafar Batna or Hamouriyah.

Certainly, the regime is responsible for the massacre because it was carrying out very fierce attempts to breach the southern besieged area. It targeted the interior area with chemical weapons, and at the same time, it moved its forces to invade the area on the front line. In short, the twenty-first of August was like Judgment Day indeed.


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