Chemical weapons are banned. But in Syria, they've become the new normal.
"When you're exposed to chlorine, first of all you can smell it. So it's like bleach and that's what people describe," said Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president of the Syrian American Medical Society. "Patients start coming to the emergency room, all of them having the same symptoms: shortness of breath, coughing, feeling suffocating, tearing, nauseated, vomiting. Some of them have respiratory arrest, they stop breathing, and they have to be put on life support. There were several incidents that happened where people died. If you have enough exposure to chlorine, then that will cause death."
Syria was forced to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles after signing onto the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013. While stockpiles of chlorine, a common cleaning chemical, aren't regulated, using it as a chemical weapon is still illegal and considered a war crime.
In the past two months, there have been at least four suspected chlorine attacks in Syria. One in Saraqib, in northern Syria, two in eastern Aleppo, which is controlled by groups opposed to the Syrian regime, and one reported attack in Eastern Ghouta.
In February, the Syrian American Medical Society released a report called "A New Normal: Ongoing Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria." In it, SAMS documented a total of 161 chemical attacks from when the conflict began through 2015.
"It's a dangerous precedent because there's no accountability for the use of chemical agents. That means the Syrian regime and terrorist group and in the future other regimes may use it because they know there are no consequences," Dr. Sahloul told Newsy in an interview.
"So what's the benefit of having all of these protocols and the United Nations Security Council resolution about not to use chemical weapons if you are not going to bring to justice the culprits of these war crimes?" Dr. Sahloul said.