Tag Archives: Syria

Oil spill from Syria is close to hitting Cyprus’ shores

An oil leak from Syria’s largest refinery is spreading across the Mediterranean Sea and could reach Cyprus by Wednesday, according to authorities on the island. Satellite imagery confirmed that this spill is larger than initially thought, currently covering around 800 square kilometers (309 square miles).

The coast of Cyrpus. Image credits Dimitris Vetsikas.

Authorities on the island of Cyprus say the oil spill could reach their shores by Wednesday. The spill was first reported on August 23, originating near a thermal power plant in the city of Baniyas. Syrian authorities have not been able to contain the spill so far.

Oil trouble

Authorities in Turkish Cyprus have already taken emergency action to try and keep the crude away from the island’s beaches and from wreaking environmental havoc. Teams with sponges and hoses have been deployed on-site to try and mop up some of the oil. Turkey also plans to dispatch two ships to the island and assist in clean-up and containment efforts, and the Greek Cypriot government is collaborating with the European Maritime Safety Agency to get an oil recovery vessel, as well.

In the meantime, a 400-meter long barrier has been erected off of the Karpas peninsula to prevent oil from contaminating local beaches.

The spill is currently covering an area of around 800 square kilometers (309 square miles). Simulations run by the Cypriot Department of Fisheries and Marine Research suggest that the oil spill could reach the Apostolos Andreas Cape, Cyprus’ northernmost point, within a day, according to CNN. This statement was made at around 11 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET) on Tuesday, and at the time the oil slick came within 7 kilometers (4 miles) of the coast.

The Guardian, citing “environmental officials in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus – internationally recognized only by Ankara”, report that roughly 20,000 tons of fuel oil have been spilled from the Syrian plant so far.

“We are taking the necessary measures by mobilizing our resources to stop any chances of the spill turning into an environmental disaster,” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Hopefully, everyone will be banding together and doing their utmost best to tackle this spill. The Mediterranean is a wonderful place, and it has already suffered through an oil spill earlier this year, in February, from the coast of Israel. Politically speaking, the actors that have to work together to work this out don’t really have much love for one another. Still, everybody has a lot to lose if they don’t put their differences aside, as the Mediterranean is an important economic sea and a wildly diverse ecosystem.

Archaeologists uncover Roman baths in Syria

It was one of the rarest and fanciest baths of its time.

Cleaning of mosaic fragments in the area of the bathing facility. Image credits: Peter Jülich.

The Roman Empire spread far and wide, from Western Europe to Northern Africa and the Middle East. Syria was an early Roman province, annexed in 64 BC. Several Roman settlements still remain in the area, although not all are in modern Syria.

The city of Doliche, for instance, is part of historical Syria but is in modern-day Turkey. Archaeologists have been working in Doliche for quite a while, and have recently unveiled signs of a prosperous and flourishing city.

“Our excavations in the ancient town of Doliche clearly show how a town flourished across epochs and religions in what was then northern Syria – from the Hellenistic period through Christian late antiquity to the early Islamic epoch”, says classical scholar and excavation director Engelbert Winter from the Cluster of Excellence, who was speaking at the end of the excavation season.

Remains of underfloor heating in the area of the bath. The supports made of tiles held up the floor, with warm air circulating in the space between. Image credits: Peter Jülich.

The pinnacle of Doliche, archaeologists say, was a rather unusual (and very fancy bath). Unfortunately, despite its impressive design, the bath was only used for about a century or two.

“The bath, decorated with splendid mosaics, was built in the 2nd or 3rd century AD, when public baths in Syria, unlike in the Latin West, were exceedingly rare. However, the bath was no longer in operation from as early as the 4th century AD”.

Aerial view of the excavation area in the east of the town with a Roman bathing facility. Image credits: Forschungsstelle Asia Minor.

People left the town as a result of wars and economic crises, as well as changing cultural trends — as Christianity’s impact increased in the area, the architectural landscape started to change, and more emphasis was placed on what was then an innovative faith. The sanctuaries of the old gods were abandoned in favor of the new, all-powerful one, and not everyone embraced this change.

“A new heyday began under Christian auspices: the basilica was built, and the town, which had originally gained attention and become rich on account of the sanctuary of the Roman god Jupiter Dolichenus, became a bishopric”.

Archaeological digs have also uncovered a church, which is quite a rare finding in the area. Not much is known about the impact of Christianity in northern Syria at the time, and how it changed people’s lives. Further finds from the area around the church indicate that it was probably destroyed by an earthquake in the 7th century.

Ultimately, the town itself was abandoned in the 12th century.

View of the excavated parts of the early Christian basilica, including a beautiful floor mosaic. Image credits: Forschungsstelle Asia Minor.

As it so often happens, uncovering these archaeological structures is only the first step. Modern archaeology is less about finding cool buildings, and more about understanding how they affected people’s lives, and how these people lived.

“We are faced here with a monumental task that we are tackling systematically with the help of state-of-the-art methods and research questions. It is not so much about exposing magnificent buildings as it is about generating the most precise information possible on how people lived their lives through the ages”, adds assistant professor Michael Blömer from the University of Aarhus. “What did the inhabitants consume, what did their everyday lives look like, how did the economy function? And how did the town react to crises like wars, natural disasters, but also political and religious changes?”

Today, Turkish Dülük, the village that follows the ancient Doliche, is still a Latin Catholic titular see, which is quite unusual — so the ancient changes still have a lasting impact to this day.

As Nicaragua and Syria embrace Paris Agreement, it’s literally the US vs the rest of the world

After Nicaragua agreed to join the Paris Agreement in September, now Syria has also embraced the deal, meaning that President Trump’s US is the only country which intends to be outside of the deal.

Right now, the US is the only country which doesn’t intend to be a part of the Paris Agreement.

When the Paris Agreement was agreed upon two years ago, it was a landmark achievement. Sure, some rightfully argued that perhaps the deal isn’t ambitious enough, and isn’t truly binding, but for the first time, the world’s countries agreed on a common framework to stave off man-made global warming. All countries agreed on a national contribution and quickly ratified the agreement; one year later, only two countries hadn’t ratified it: wartorn Syria and Nicaragua, whose leaders said they want something more ambitious than the current agreement.

But something unexpected happened. Under President Trump, the US, which had been one of the key supporters of such a global agreement, did a complete U-turn. Not only did Trump surround himself with climate change deniers and fossil fuel lobbyists, but he took the extra step and announced that the US will exit the Paris Agreement. The official statement was issued in October (the same month Nicaragua finally signed the agreement) saying that the US would withdraw “unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favourable for our country”. International reactions were swift and blunt, condemning Trump’s decision and explaining that all the countries in the world can’t renegotiate a global pact just because one president doesn’t like it.

It’s not like most or much of the world is against the US on this — literally, the entire world, every single country on the planet has agreed to the Paris Agreement, putting Trump’s US alone against everybody.

“As if it wasn’t already crystal clear, every single other country in the world is moving forward together to tackle the climate crisis, while Donald Trump’s has isolated the United States on the world stage in an embarrassing and dangerous position,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, an environmental organization in the United States, said in a statement at the COP.

The 23rd COP (Conference of Parties) is now taking place in Bonn, Germany. Two years ago, COP21 led to the signing of the Paris Agreement. Last year, in Marrakech, the world discussed how to implement the decisions signed in Paris. This year, without a doubt, the main point of focus will be what can be done considering the current situation of the US. But notably, this year Syria also announced its intention to ratify the Paris agreement. While they have not sent the papers in, Syrian authorities have assured the UN that the country will support the environmental initiatives, to the best of its ability.

Trump has pursued a series of anti-environmental measures as President. Credits: Michael Vadon.

This means that technically, the deal will be ratified by all countries in the world. Despite his best efforts, Trump can’t disengage from the Agreement by himself. The earliest he can officially do that is in 2020, but the US has elections in 2020, meaning that he might not get the chance to do it at all. Still, regardless of these technicalities, the White House has made it abundantly clear that it has no interest in pursuing environmental and sustainable objectives — even if they are beneficial economically. The administration has shown that it would rather pursue dirty coal energy ahead of renewables, even if it means losing quite a lot of money and jobs in the process.

Scientists point out that with the current state of events, even if the Paris Agreement is respected, there’s a good chance the Earth might heat up by more than 2C Celsius. We need to step up implementation if we want to limit irreversible damage. Any backtrack can be devastating. We have decades of science documenting climate change and its dramatic events, it’s time for policy to follow suit. Now is the time to step up the implementation. With or without the White House, the world needs to continue.

Azaz, Syria. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Rivers are overflowing around Syria because there’s no one to use them anymore

Azaz, Syria. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Azaz, Syria. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Syrian civil war has displaced millions and left a once prosperous industry in ruin. In many parts of the war-torn country, few people still have a job and farm lands are left to themselves. It’s enough to talk to any Syrian refugee to get a feel of the putrid state of affairs in their country. And if you don’t believe them, you’re free to study objective proxies like satellite imagery and data. One recent study, for instance, found many of Syria’s once shallow rivers are now overflowing because irrigated agriculture is now almost non-existent, thousands of miles of pipeline are severed, and cities are empty.

Since 2008, when the situation in Syria started to get very hot, the Jordan river has swelled to three times its regular size. The river runs through Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon, however, Syria had built many reservoirs that capture water from Jordan river tributaries which cross the country. These neighboring countries are now benefiting from having more water resources at the expense of a whole nation. There are millions of Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan, though, and this extra water will certainly help these unfortunate people.

jordan river

Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica.

According to the study’s authors, about half of the Jordan river’s swelling can be attributed to war, while the other half is due to natural recovery following the years of drought which preceded the war. Some believe that this drought, which is actually less severe than the Californian one, was one of the contributing factors to the war.

Map of irrigated farmlands in Syria, then and now. Credit: PNAS

Map of irrigated farmlands in Syria, then and now. Credit: PNAS

These effects were studied using satellite imagery and the study is among the first to analyze watershed regions in war zones. The Stanford researchers looked at composite satellite images of the 11 largest Syria surface water reservoirs. Water management and land use on the Jordanian side of the Yarmouk basin and Israel’s Golan Heights — areas where there is no refugee crisis — served as baselines to assess the toll of war on the environment.

“The water management practices in Syria have changed and that’s visible from space,” said study co-author and principal investigator Steven Gorelick, the Cyrus Fisher Tolman Professor in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “The Syrian crisis has resulted in a reduction in agricultural land in southern Syria, a decline in Syrian demand for irrigation water and a dramatic change in the way the Syrians manage their reservoirs.”

It’s believed Syria’s reservoirs now store 49 percent less water. Concerning land use, Syria’s irrigated land in the Jordan river-Yarmouk basin is down by 47 percent.

“In the past few years, there’s been increasing focus on how climate change and drought influences conflict, but there hasn’t been as much research on how conflict can actually lead to impact on the environment and water resources,” said study co-author Jim Yoon, a PhD candidate in Earth system science at Stanford.

svalbard vault

Syrian researchers withdraw seeds from the Arctic ‘Doomsday’ Vault

svalbard vault

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

Deep in the Arctic, nestled inside an icy island lies one of humanity’s backup plan: the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Open in 2008, the center houses seeds from virtually all the plants on the planet be them wild, domesticated or genetically modified. In case of a global calamity of any kind (nuclear war *cough), these seeds would be put to good use if a species is faced with extinction or research is required on such seeds. This is precisely why the first withdrawal request from the vault was made by Syrian researchers.

While there’s no nuclear war in Syria, things are pretty rough over there. The researchers at International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) had to move their work from their head quarters in Aleppo, Syria to Lebanon. The problem is that all the seeds which the researchers use are located in Aleppo, and while these are supposedly safe and in cold storage, the vicinity is ravaged by war and too dangerous. To continue their work, the Syrian Researchers asked the vault to return 130 of the 325 boxes that they dropped off containing drought-resistant crop seeds, including wheat, barley, and grasses. This means 116,000 out of a total of 860,000 stored at the Svalbard Vault.

Though Norway owns the global seed bank, the first of its kind, other countries can store seeds in it and remove them as needed. The genes in the seeds may someday be needed to adapt crops to endure climate change, droughts, blights, and other potential catastrophes.  Luckily, the vault is replenished constantly and the withdrawal shouldn’t cause any vulnerability. “Protecting the world’s biodiversity in this manner is precisely the purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault,” spokesperson Brian Lainoff said.

via Science Alert.

Migration route

Maps that explain today’s major migration routes

Migration route

Map by National Geographic

Syrian refugees are making headlines all over the world, but while their story is worth covering, there are millions other refugees in Asia, Central America or Africa that are in the same boat. According to the U.N., 59.5 million people were displaced due to “persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations” in 2014 or 8.3 million more than the year before. To escape persecution, refugees take hidden routes out of their own country which are often controlled by smugglers and can be extremely dangerous to cross. Everybody was heartbroken to learn about the story of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who was found washed ashore in Turkey, but few know that  2,900 other people died drowned or asphyxiated on their way to a safe haven this year alone. National geographic just released five great maps that explain the global forced migration patterns.

Eastern Mediterranean Route by National Geographic

Eastern Mediterranean Route by National Geographic


This is the most famous route news outlet choose to speak about, with the epicenter being people fleeing Syria, flocking for the EU.

“As of this week, the number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria approached 4.1 million. These Syrians in exile have sought shelter in camps and temporary housing in Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and throughout North Africa. Almost half have landed in Turkey, according to the UN, but conditions there have been worsening.

The Eastern Mediterranean route—the passage long used by migrants crossing through Turkey to the European Union—has grown ever more crowded since the outbreak of war in Syria in 2011. Syrian routes have also been merging along easternmost points below the Mediterranean Sea of an East African migratory route that has long been used by people fleeing conflict in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan.”

migrant sea route

Mediterranean Sea Route by National Geographic


“Nearly 90 percent of those who attempt to reach Europe by sea come from ten countries, in descending order by percentage: Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Gambia, and Bangladesh”

Central American Route by National Geographic

Central American Route by National Geographic


“Poverty and violence in Mexico and Central America has uprooted millions. Many have taken the treacherous journey north along smuggling routes, increasingly controlled by drug cartels, towards the U.S. border. The human flow includes more than 68,000 unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the border between 2013 and 2014, according the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Long-simmering conflict in Colombia has resulted in more than six million internally-displaced people there while  an increasingly violent drug trade in Honduras and El Salvador has fueled more destabilization in the region.”

Southeastern Asia route

Southeastern Asia route by National Geographic


“Political upheaval—including Muslim Rohingya refugees who have fled political repression in Myanmar—restrictive migration policies, and a lack of legal frameworks for refugees have made Southeast Asia increasingly dangerous for migrants. Human trafficking, forced labor and other abuses are also rife in the region, according to the UN.”

Soldiers loyal to Assad cheer while raising their weapons in the Aleppo countryside. Photograph: George Ourfalian/Reuters

Glass half full: social unrest and conflict curb global warming

The revolutionary wave that swept Arab nations beginning with 2011 displaced millions and cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. On the bright side, the dampened economic activity caused a significant lapse in greenhouse emissions. In some extreme cases, nitrogen dioxide values have decreased by 40 to 50% over Damascus and Aleppo, according to a new study published by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry.

“It is tragic that the negative trends we observe in nitrogen oxide emissions accompany humanitarian catastrophes,” said Jos Lelieveld, the team’s lead and a director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry.

The team parsed the mountains of data gathered from NASA’s Ozone Monitoring Instrument to follow the atmospheric activity in the Middle East from 2005 to 2014.

Between 2005 and 2010 – a period of economic growth – the Middle East experienced a major surge in greenhouse gas buildup. Past 2011, however, the trendline was reversed. For instance, the Iraqi GDP rose by 5-7% yearly, accompanied by an increased in CO2 emissions of 4-5% yearly. Not coincidentally, the areas under control of ISIS registered the steepest decline in emissions. Specifically, nitrogen oxide (NO2) levels rose by 10% annually. Beginning 2011 though, NO2 levels fell each year by the same percentage.

A similar trend reversal is identified in Egypt around the time of the government’s overthrow in 2011.

In Syria, where 200,000 people were killed in the revolution, NO2 emissions have dropped immensely. Today, NO2 over Damascus or Aleppo is only 40-50% that registered in 2011.

Iran, which was sanctioned by the UN in 2006 and 2010, saw its GDP fall by 6% in 2013 and 2014. Since 2010, the country’s NO2 levels fell by 4% each year.

In Lybia, where thousands of Syrian refugees fled, NO2 emissions increased.

“From 2005-10 the Middle East has been one of the regions with the fastest growing air pollution emissions. This also occurred in East Asia, but especially in the Middle East. This was related to economic growth in many countries. However it’s the only region in the world where this upward trend of pollution was interrupted around 2010 and then followed by very strong decline.”

Not all Middle Eastern countries which recently decreased their NO2 emissions ran into trouble because of it. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates – countries which have remained in state of civil peace for years – managed to lower NO2 by installing air control systems and environmental policies.

Expanding over the scope of their study, the German researchers also looked at possibly the hardest hit country by the economic crash of 2008, Greece. The country saw saw significant reduction in greenhouse gases. Nitrogen oxide levels registered in the air above Athens are 40% down compared to 2008, as reported in Science Advances.

Of course, the findings aren’t surprising. Greenhouse gas emissions are directly tied to economic development – when one increases, so does the other and vice-versa. Fortunately, some economies have already decoupled their economic growth from carbon emissions, but for most countries a growing economy means burning more fossil fuel. The study, however, identified some rather surprising tidbits which weren’t that obvious.

“These findings could not have been predicted and for this reason disagree with emissions scenarios used in the projections of air pollution and climate change in the future. Often these emissions are linked to energy use and CO2 but we find these are simply not good predictors for trends, at least not in the Middle East,” Lelieveld said. Unfortunately, the Middle East is not the only region in the world affected by economic recession and upheaval owing to war, although geopolitical changes appear to be more drastic than elsewhere. It is tragic that some of the observed recent negative NO2 trends are associated with humanitarian catastrophes.”


Climate change was the gas that lit the Syrian Revolution

The link between climate change and violent conflict has been thrown about often, but a recent study is the first to support this hypothesis with qualitative evidence. US researchers found that widespread droughts and increased temperatures amplified an already heightened state of unrest in Syria, which may have triggered the civil war still raging on today.


Photo: AP

Between 2006-2010, an unprecedented drought spree forced Syria, once a major food basket in the middle East, to import food. Hundreds of thousands of farmers were forced to leave their lands and flocked to the cities, which where already crowded with roughly a million refugees from neighboring Iraq. In 2013, NASA published a study where it outlined that Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins had lost 144 cubic kilometers of freshwater, the second most accelerated water depletion in the world – the first being India.

Coupled with an already tense situation given corrupt leadership,  inequality, massive population growth and the revolutionary wave known as the Arab Spring, the stage was set for massive civil unrest which turned into a civil war. Some 80,000 lives have been claimed so far in Syria, according to the UN. To make matters worse, half the country is now under ISIS control.

The study found that natural variability alone could not account for the trends in wind, rain and heat that ultimately caused the drought. Mixed with high unemployment and neighboring turmoil, this plunged Syria into war. Of course, the study does not imply that climate change caused the Syrian war, but rather that it is an important factor which contributed to the situation we’re seeing today. Acknowledging this is not a singular situation, world governments should pay more attention to climate variables, especially in the vulnerable Middle East.

“Being able to, in a specific region, draw this story line together we think is pretty significant,” says study co-author Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “The entire world needs to be planning for a drier future in that area. And there will be lots of global implications.”

Of course, scientists have argued for years that rising temperatures are linked with civil unrest. Discussions up until now have been speculative to various degrees. This study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is the first, however, that builds on a collection of results and provides qualitative evidence.

The world’s earliest documented water war happened 4,500 years ago, when the armies of Lagash and Umma, city-states near the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, battled with spears and chariots after Umma’s king drained an irrigation canal leading from the Tigris. “Enannatum, ruler of Lagash, went into battle,” reads an account carved into an ancient stone cylinder, and “left behind 60 soldiers [dead] on the bank of the canal”. Last year, I reported  a study which collected data spanning across hundreds of years, which also suggests there’s a link even between seemingly small changes in temperature and conflict.  For instance, political instability and warfare and linked to widespread and lasting droughts around A.D. 900 in lands near the Pacific, which eventually brought the demise of Maya empire. Decades of drought interspersed with intense monsoon rains collapsed the Khmer empire (modern day Cambodia) in the 14th century. Can governments still afford to ignore the climate ?

(c) AP

How chemical weapons ‘work’ (kill) people

For nearly two years now, Syria has been embroiled in a gruesome civil war that has so far claimed thousands of lives. Cruelties in the region reached a climax in past weeks after alleged reports of chemical weapons use against civilians were made. So far, it’s unclear which side – the government or rebelling opposition – was responsible for the heinous act, and little does it matter for those struck down by the chemical attack. UN officials are currently deployed – and have actually been attacked by snipers during a tour – in order to assess the situation and confirm whether or not chemical weapons were deployed. How do chemical weapons like sarin nerve gas affect the human body, and how can it be detected beyond the obvious onslaught (showing footage of devastated people isn’t proof enough; you need to show that those people were hit by chemical weapons and not something else) ?

Speaking to ABC science, Dr David Caldicott an emergency physician and senior lecturer at the Australian National University, is pretty convinced chemical weapons were indeed deployed on the people of Syria. The substance in question is most likely a type of chemical known as an organophosphate. You’d be surprised to know that some of you might have already been exposed to organophosphates, albeit in a tiny concentrations, through ingestion of food derived from sprayed crops. This class of chemicals include many of the insecticides we use every day, however they’re also deployed in cruel chemical weapons like sarin, soman, tabum, and VX. The main difference is that the warfare-grade organophosphates are “several thousand times” more potent than everyday organophosphate insecticide, according to Dr. Caldicott.

“It’ll probably become very obvious very quickly whether an organophosphate has been used, more difficult than that will be determining what sort of organophosphate that was, and even more difficult than that who was responsible for its release,” says Caldicott.

Organophosphates inhibit an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase at the nerve junction (synapse), responsible for  regulating the amount of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine crossing nerve synapses. Acetylcholine is one of the most important neurotransmitters in the brain, signaling tasks to the body’s autonomic nervous system. Depending on frequency and concentration, acetylcholine  controls things such as heart rate, respiratory rate, salivation, digestion, pupil dilation, and urination.

(c) AP

(c) AP

It’s clear that inhibing the acetylcholinesterase enzyme – which can be resembled to a on-off switch – can have a devastating impact on living beings.

“You can imagine that if you block one of the major ‘off-switches’ of the body, and are left with all the lights turned ‘on’ all of the time, the body might run into trouble. With an extremely rapid build up of acetylcholine in the synapse, things like secretions, respiratory problems, and muscular dysfuntion can go on unattenuated,” explains Caldicott.

“And that’s really how people suffer and die.”

Scientific security analysts can probe whether or not a person has been contaminated by organophosphates by taking urine and blood samples.

“Early on following the exposure to a military organophosphate you may well see the breakdown products of metabolism in the urine, but after it’s been secreted in the wee it’s very difficult to detect.

“If someone has got very low levels of functioning acetylcholinesterase in their blood, then they’ve probably been exposed to an organophosphate, because the poison has bound to it and inactivated it.

“Depending on the toxicity of the agent used, how much was involved, how long patients were exposed and how they were exposed, enzyme levels can start to return to normal levels from several days to several weeks post-exposure.

“What is more difficult and more problematic, the later we are in the process of analysis, is working out what sort of organophosphate has been used.

“That is the real test for the inspectors, particularly a week down the line.”

Caldicott says it is unclear whether or not military-grade chemicals have been used.

“You could mimic this effect by using a high concentration and large volumes of a simple insecticide,” he says.

Charles Duelfer, the former head of U.S. weapons inspection teams in Iraq, said the U.N. experts will be looking to collect evidence from witnesses and survivors of last week’s attack, including samples that can be analyzed later.

“They’ll be looking for remnants of the munitions, which could be sophisticated munitions that a military would have — or if it turns out, unexpectedly, to be the case that the insurgents had cobbled together some sort of CW capability, maybe they’ll find that,” Duelfer said.

UPDATE: In the meantime, CNN has footage of alleged chemical attack victims. Be warned viewer discretion is advised, as the video is most, most graphic.