Image above: SWEDHR collage depicting how CNN ‘sourced’ ‘news on Syrian gas attacks’ in fake life-saving video published simultaneously in You Tube by ‘White Helmets’ in Iblid and a ‘rebel’ organization originated in al-Qaeda, successively al-Nusra. Details in article here.
This article by Adam Larson was originally published at The Indicter Magazine.
For three years now, it’s been alleged and that Syrian government forces have systematically used helicopters to drop chlorine gas on civilians in rebel-held areas of the country. Amid repeated efforts to impose new sanctions on Syria over the widely accepted charges, another reminder was dropped on March 25: a direct chlorine attack on an underground hospital in Hama province was said to kill at least two, including a surgeon, Dr. Ali Darwish (photo below). 
But a critical analysis of the evidence contradicts these allegations in myriad ways. Ongoing open-source research by myself and the community at A Closer Look On Syria has followed from the start. I’ve re-packaged the growing body of findings repeatedly for the OPCW, select diplomats, and the public.  Here is another attempt to provide a long but readable overview of that, in two parts. Some general problems and observations wrapping around two cases examined in detail, each of which has a family of six dying, suffices to raise the main points.
Together, the findings illustrate that, despite all the declarations of certainty, the Syrian government is almost certainly not dropping chlorine on its people. Instead, as outlandish as it may sound, it’s quite likely that Islamist opposition forces in Syria are behind all of these events. Surprisingly specific and hard-to-deny visual clues suggest rebels are murdering the victims themselves using different methods, and lodging false claims as cover, and to shift the blame. The evidence behind that is not secret, and plain enough for anyone to see. But, so far, the people in charge just haven’t looked closely enough, and no one in the media has pushed the issue. And so the true chlorine story, at least as we see it, remains unspoken and invisible to the masses, so far.
Some General Problems
Chlorine gas can harm and even kill because it forms corrosive acids on contact with water, causing severe damaging the soft tissues like eyes and lungs. Yet it has many legitimate purposes, is easily synthesized, and remains quite common. It could easily be obtained by opposition forces. In fact, by credible reports, they’ve used it against government forces and civilians, in little-noted attacks from late 2012 onward. 
Below is a photo said to show a firefighter called in for rescue work after a chlorine attack in the government-held part of Aleppo’s Old City, on August 2, 2016. It’s said this civil defense worker was one of 13 people who died in the attack, blamed on Harakat Noureddin al-Zenki. 
Note the victim’s swollen eyes pouring tears, blood coming from his mouth or nose, skin redness, and mild blue tint to the skin (this is called cyanoisis, and is caused by low blood oxygen). This is a fairly severe case, but some form of these signs should appear with chlorine victims, and so they matter in the case studies below. And it should be noted that Dr. Darwish, as shown above, doesn’t seem to display these signs. 
While that Aleppo attack reportedly used surface-fired rockets, the opposition clearly couldn’t be behind anything dropped from an aircraft, as alleged in the Hama hospital bombing, or the other widely-condemned cases blamed on government forces.
But it must be noted that three years on, as far as I’ve seen, there remains no clear visual proof any of these attacks really did involve helicopters. Some videos are clearly edited, or show scenes staged with colored smoke. In other cases, real chlorine is being released, but it may well be done by militants on the ground, to make the government look bad.
Allegedly, these chlorine bombs are almost always aimed at civilians and not rebel fighters, which is strategically illogical. On the other hand, these allegations do serve and have been used for regime-change demands; they violate the chemical weapons convention Damascus is now signatory to, and cross the “red line” set by U.S. president Obama. This leaves little reason for Damascus to launch such attacks, and of course goes towards motive for the opposition to fake them on the government’s behalf.
2015’s deadly chlorine attacks were mostly in Idlib province, after it was almost completely overrun by Islamist militants, supported by Turkey and led by Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. At least 13 attacks over exactly two months (March 16 to May 16) allegedly killed a total of 10 civilians, 6 of those in a dramatic first attack we’ll consider below. 
The OPCW has accepted the strange allegation that the “barrel bombs” used in these attacks held precursor chemicals rigged to mix upon impact and generate fresh chlorine right there.  But the violence of impact after such a long fall would almost surely scatter everything, disrupt the mixing, and produce very little gas, in return for a lot of strange engineering work.
This allegation seems aimed at explaining the unusual remnants rebels showed, and the initially mysterious pools of purple-red fluid at some attack sites. The fluid might actually be from on-site mixing of bulk volumes of the chemicals, probably poured by hand from large jugs (clearly not from a passing helicopter if so). These are produced, for example, by Tekkim chemicals of Turkey. This brand was used by Jihadists with a “Destructive Wind chemical brigade” to synthesize chlorine, apparently, for an infamous December, 2012 video. With this, the host killed two rabbits in a plexiglass cage, promising the same fate to Syria’s Alawites. 
Finally, it’s worth noting how opposition reports consistently claim that chlorine victims in Syria lose consciousness, faint, or become paralyzed almost instantly, then never move again, and breath too much to survive before they’re rescued.
This running claim raises the very low expected death toll, and has been passed on with little question. But it has no basis in science. In reality, victims should stay awake and move away from the gas, and should usually survive. It’s troubling the way victims reportedly lay still in their homes, waiting for the “White Helmets” to come save them. No one else has noted it yet, but it suggests these aren’t real events they’re reporting, but rather poorly-researched cover stories. 
These aren’t all the problems I could list, but perhaps the most important ones to set the stage. Now we turn to a particular case to see if this outside-the-box thinking can explain the specifics of one of these alleged attacks.
Sarmin, 2015, and a Family of Six Killed
While others among the alleged chlorine attack of 2015 raise question, the first-and-worst among them, on the evening of March 16, is important for three reasons: it’s the most highly promoted incident, with emotionally-charged images of babies dying – it has more evidence available than usual – that evidence is especially riddled with problems, and seams of what may be the true story. A book could be written about this incident.
It was on the eastern edge of Sarmin, Idlib province, that a family of six, and no one else, reportedly died in the year’s debut chlorine event. A grandmother, father, mother, and three young children aged about 1-3, their family name was given as al-Taleb. We can’t be sure that’s actually true, but for simplicity let’s call them Taleb and skip the scare quotes. The bizarre and perhaps murderous “life-saving procedures” used on the Taleb children has recently been analyzed and exposed as a fraud by Swedish Doctors for Human Rights here at The Indicter (see: White Helmets Video, Macabre Manipulation of Dead Children and Staged Chemical Weapons Attack to Justify a “No-Fly Zone” in Syria) A Closer Look On Syria’s research can expand on many other questions surrounding this case. 
Below is a scene from the damaged basement apartment where it’s claimed the Talebs met their fate. UN investigators accepted the claim that one of those unlikely barrel bombs happened to fall right through a narrow slot for a ventilation shaft, no more than 1.5 meters wide, “improbable as it sounds.”  Thus it hit their kitchen wall full force without exploding, knocking down the wall and somehow filling the whole apartment with gallons of red-purple fluid, and thus chlorine gas.
It’s not clear how the fluid would spread so widely, why the wrong kind of gas cylinder is also seen atop the rubble, or why the home and twisted barrel casing (but not that extra canister) seem damaged by an explosion.  So far, it seems no one, even the OPCW’s investigators, has made full sense of this scene.
At least two strong clues entered below suggest the Taleb family didn’t really live here anyway.
Black Flags and White Helmets
By the logo, that site video was filmed by “Coordinating Sarmin,” local activists affiliated with Al-Qaeda’s Syria franchise Jabhat al-Nusra (see the black flag atop “Sarmin” in gold, shared by JaN).  Other aftermath videos are filmed by the newly-minted “White Helmets,” or “Syrian Civil Defense,” Idlib branch. In fact, this incident seems to be the first prominent appearance of the White Helmets anywhere, their debut performance of sorts.
The White Helmets and Coordinating Sarmin each filmed one of the two emergency room videos of the children dying. This apparent team effort is also suggested by the new custom blankets used in the Sarmin field hospital: the “civil defense” logo done up in the gold-and-black colors of their jihadist partners. A further discussion about the associations of symbols/flags in the ‘rebel’ formations in Syria (from al-Qaeda to White Helmets) in Prof Marcello Ferrada de Noli’s article “White Helmets Movie: Updated Evidence From Swedish Doctors Confirm Fake ‘Lifesaving’ and Malpractices on Children“.
Chlorine Did Not Kill Those Babies
As recently noted in The Indicter, dubious “life-saving efforts” failed to save the children.  Speculations has been raised elsewhere on whether such procedures may even have killed them. For instance, a crucial injection for the infant, Mohamed, is apparently withheld and swapped for possibly fatal syringe rampage through the boy’s chest.
Further, Mohamed was seen earlier in the triage area, being given respiratory support. But later in the “emergency room,” he was given no useful assistance as he was left on his back, suffocating on his own fluids.  It almost seems the medical workers here wanted these children to die, so they could catch it on video, blame “Assad,” and demand protection.
Left: Mohamed Taleb with oxygen mask in triage  – right: suffocating in the “emergency room” 
While medical malpractice may have finally killed at least the boy, it’s important to consider the poisoning that preceded that and likely killed both girls. The back-story is supposed to make this quite clear, but we must note the children’s clinical signs suggest they were never in that gas-filled apartment. Mohamed as shown, and his older sisters Aysha and Sara, between them show no sign of being exposed to chlorine gas.
The Taleb children were said to soak in it for some 30 minutes, so they should have skin irritation and red, damaged eyes, should probably be conscious, with strained breathing and violent coughing. But they look roughly the opposite of how they should (compare Mohamed above to the firefighter shown at the start). They’re limp and totally unresponsive, with white, rheumy, vacant eyes, and abnormally pale skin. They don’t cough at all, and barely even breathe. In fact they appear dead, but at least the infant Mohamed is alive and breathing, so he’s comatose.
All this suggests the children may have suffered an overdose with a CNS depressant drug (opiates, barbiturates, etc.).  That would clearly be done by people on the ground, and not by a passing helicopter. It was apparently done outside the Sarmin field hospital, but perhaps drawing from its supplies anyway.  But whatever really killed them, we can see it was almost certainly not the chlorine gas alleged, and we’re left with a false claim covering for a mystery. These crucial details need to be reconsidered by credible experts.
There are More Different Stories Than There Should Be
Serious story discrepancies have emerged as well, suggesting poor coordination between fictitious accounts. The OPCW was told the parents escaped the gas-filled apartment along with Mohamed, and found help for the others passed out inside (with some confusion about the boy’s age).  Everyone else was told the Talebs were all found paralyzed but alive at the scene. 
The director of the Sarmin field hospital the children died in is Dr. Mohamed Tennari (alt: Tirani, “T.”), who’s also the local director of the interventionist Syrian-American Medical Society. As “Dr T, the director of Sarmin hospital,” he gave an early account to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) which supported his facility, perhaps even with the drugs used to kill the Taleb children. Therein, he claimed that the family (grandmother, parents, and three children) was unknown. He saw them “arriving at the hospital from a neighbouring village,” barely able to speak before they died. 
But everyone else says they lived at a known spot in Sarmin, and the given spot does match the video record.  Later, Dr. Tennari agreed and added that the father, his “friend” Waref al-Taleb, “ran an electronics repair shop in town,”  and even had “recently helped to fix my phone.”  Later he told Al-Jazeera Waref “was friendly, quiet, [a] good person,” who “had a nice family. He loved his family.” Tennari says his last visit to the repair shop in Sarmin was actually to fix an internet router, a month or two before the attack. “Taleb did not charge him for the fix,” Al-Jazeera reported, as a gesture between “the two Syrian friends.” 
Did he just forget about all that at first, as he imagined they were strangers from another town? Or was the first story closer to the truth?
Finally, the extensive video record shows Dr. Tennari was not present in the “emergency room” during the five filmed minutes when the children die. This might help explain why his later false description of heading the efforts there to save them was full of illogical claims. 
We’ll come back to the severely unreliable Dr. Tennari at the end of part 2. For now just note he may be illustrative of all such sources phoning in these chlorine attacks to their interventionist sponsors.