Sunday, June 19, 2005


(NGN) Damascus - Mysterious deaths in Syria, have panicked some villagers between the town of Day az-Zawr, and the Iraq-Syrian border. The area is north of the Al-Burghuth Salt Flat and east of the Khabur River and north of the largest wheat producing fields in Syria. Unconfirmed reports say as many as 5 to 7 villagers have died of the illness, and others are said to be exhibiting symptoms of varying degrees similar to those who have died.

The cause of the deaths, yet to be determined, has spooked authorities, and created a demand for answers by locals. Because of rumors that possibly some of the gases stockpiled by Saddam during his regime were moved to the Salt Flat area prior to the war, the fear, say villagers, is that if gas canisters are stored in salt mines there, the cause of the illnesses and deaths may be leaking containers.

Syrian officials are said to be finding it difficult to get the necessary gear to equip search teams ostensibly, because they’re not exactly sure what to prepare for. One official indicated that level 7 protective gear is essential simply because “We don’t know what were dealing with.” Officials have also recently clamped down hard on news organisations attempting to find out more about the situation.

One Kurdish local claimed the symptoms and deaths were like those suffered by Kurds under Iraq because one of his relatives died in Halabja, under the Saddam regime.

Others in the region, who refused to be identified for fear of reprisals, claimed that Damascus was dragging its feet. One local farmer raised the fear of widespread dispersion because of winds and potential contamination of the Syrian wheat crop.

Because the arid area north of the wheat farms is sparsely populated, it’s difficult to pinpoint the site from where some believe contamination is coming. Local authorities have quarantined the dead until protective gear is available to conduct autopsies. Syrian Army officials have also cordoned off a 60-square kilometer area but while a precise location was not given, it was believed to be some 80 to 100 kilometers northeast of Al Mayadin. No reason was announced for the closure.
NGN Special Reports© 6-19-05

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