WASHINGTON (AA) – A congressional committee on Wednesday heard witness accounts of chlorine gas use by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"One of the barrel bombs fell through a shaft in their home, filling the ventilation with chlorine gas it broke open," Dr. Mohamed Tennari of the Syrian-American Medical Society told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, adding that "their basement became a makeshift gas chamber."
Tennari was describing his experience on March 16 when he heard helicopters hovering above his house in Idlib before deploying the bombs on a nearby house. He said the air had "a bleach-like odor."
The Syrian doctor who works in Idlib, one of the most bombed cities by the Syrian regime, said he ran to a hospital where "dozens of people" were already and who were experiencing difficulty breathing "with their eyes and throats burning, and many began secreting from the mouth."
He presented video of three children who were at the hospital that night: Aisha, 3, her sister Sara, 2, and their 1-year-old brother Mohammad. All "were a sickly pale color when they arrived – a sign of severe lack of oxygen and chemical exposure", Tennari said. Despite the efforts by doctors, the children all died from the gas attack.
Rep. Jeff Duncan said the video as "worth a million words" and that it needed to be shown all across the U.S. in order to raise awareness of the brutality of the Assad regime.
Another medical doctor, Annie Sparrow, described working on the ground in Syria. "I'm a doctor and I'm very familiar with death. But I have never seen a more obscene way to kill children and never watched so many suffer in such an obscene manner," she said.
Committee chairman Ed Royce said Assad "must go" while blaming the regime for the rise of the Daesh militant group in the region.
"Assad's purpose is to move people out of the cities,", he said, adding that Syrians are forced to face a war on two front. "Syrian people have two enemies, one is Assad, other one is Daesh," he said.
The U.S. has so far ruled out a no-fly zone over parts of Syria – a proposal made by neighboring countries, particularly Turkey – but witnesses before the committee suggested a no fly zone is the only option to stop the Assad's barrel bomb attacks.
"Creating a no-bomb zone would stop the most important tools that have been used to slaughter and terrorize Syrian civilians, especially the children who are the most vulnerable to these toxic gases and whose small bodies are literally ripped apart by the hideous shrapnel inside these bombs," Sparrow said.
White House policy needs to change regarding the no-fly zone in order to end Assad's domination of the airspace in Syria, Royce said. Longtime congressman Elliot Engel went further and blamed Washington for the current chaos in Syria. "I only wish that we had made some different choices in Washington three years ago when the Free Syrian Army was begging us to aid and equip them," he said.
The hearing came just one day after Secretary of State John Kerry said he was certain Assad had used chlorine gas against his own people.
Washington's ambassador to the UN also condemned on Tuesday the Syrian government's use of chlorine gas, saying that its battlefield application is tantamount to that of a chemical weapon.
Human rights groups long called world leaders to raise their voice on Assad's use of chlorine gas and barrel bomb use.
Assad agreed to allow a UN-led force to dismantle his country's declared chemical weapons stockpile two years ago, and on Wednesday the world's chemical weapons watchdog said Syria's weapons arsenal had been destroyed.
Last August, the Obama administration declared all chemical weapons had been successfully removed from Syria, but since then the administration claims the regime has continued to use prohibited chemical weapons – supported by Wednesday's testimony.
The Syrian civil war has claimed more than 220,000 lives, according to the UN.