I first drove into Douma as part of an escorted convoy of journalists. It was a short walk to see Dr Assim Rahaibani, a 58-year-old senior Syrian doctor. In his subterranean clinic, he showed me his lowly hospital and the few beds.
“I was with my family in the basement of my home 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 – but on this night, there was wind, and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements 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.”
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, [while] two actually told me they didn’t know about the connection.
Many people I talked to said they had “never believed in” gas stories, which were usually put out by the armed Islamist groups.
A woman told us that every member of the White Helmets in Douma abandoned their main headquarters and took the government-organised and Russian-protected buses to Idlib with the armed groups.
Inspectors from the OPCW are currently blocked from coming to the site of the alleged gas attack, ostensibly because they lacked the correct UN permits.
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