At dawn on Wednesday, August 21, 2013, the Syrian regime targeted the cities of Zamalka and Ain Tarma in Eastern Ghouta, and Muadamiyat al-Sham in the Western Ghouta, with a number of surface-to-surface missiles loaded with sarin gas. The attack led to the deaths of 1,461 people as a result of inhaling toxic gases, and injured 9,757 people, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, and came three days after the arrival of the United Nations inspectors’ mission to Damascus to investigate the chemical attack on the town of Khan al-Assal.
The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) issued a report on September 16, 2013 indicating that “sarin gas” was delivered via surface-to-surface missiles. The report stated that the timing of the attack sought to ensure the injury or death of the largest possible number of people, but fell short of specifying the identity of the perpetrator.
On September 27, 2013, the UN Security Council issued Resolution No. 2118 in which it condemned the use of chemical weapons without referring to the party that carries out chemical attacks.
Based on a US-Russian agreement, the Syrian regime was admitted to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on September 14, 2013 in exchange for preventing a military intervention in Syria and sidestepping Obama’s red line. It was also agreed to destroy Syria’s chemical stockpiles under the OPCW’s supervision, which later announced the destruction of 1,300 tons of the regime’s stockpiles. Despite these developments, the regime returned to the use of chemical weapons against civilians more than two hundred times since the Ghouta massacre, and the results of investigations proving this were released which culminated in freezing Syria’s membership to the OPCW on April 21, 2021 after initially being compelled to join the Organization.
The chemical atrocities on August 21, 2013 marked the 33rd time that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons against civilians, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. It was also the third time that the regime used sarin gas in the Eastern Ghouta, and the fourth instance being in Douma on the evening of April 7, 2018.
Eastern Ghouta covers an area of 600 square kilometers, and includes more than 60 towns and villages, and it is the main food basket for the city of Damascus because of its fertile agricultural lands.
Eastern Ghouta is known for its important and strategic location, as it borders the city of Damascus to the west, the Dumeir Military Airport and Tishreen Thermal Power Plant to the east, the Damascus International Airport and the mills to the south, the industrial city of Adra and Homs Highway to the north, and in the middle are the two helicopter air bases of Marj al-Sultan. Before 2011, it contained a large number of military barracks and security headquarters.
Ghouta was liberated in October 2012, after which the regime managed to impose a siege on the area and cut all the crossings to it on October 2, 2013. In early 2013, the population of Eastern Grouta was estimated at about two million, which began to dwindle as the siege intensified, and only about 400,000 people remained according to United Nations reports. The siege, and the prevention of the entry of medicines and medical devices, led to the depletion of the stock of medical centers in the Ghouta, and rendered it impossible to establish new medical centers to cover the needs of a sizeable population, which negatively affected the handling of the chemical massacre and the ability to save the lives of victims.
On February 18, 2018, the Syrian regime’s forces began a large-scale military operation on Ghouta, which ended after two months by controlling the area and displacing about 66,000 of its people to northern Syria. After the regime regained control, its security services dug up the graves of victims of chemical attacks in Zamalka, in an effort to conceal evidence of the crime and prevent the truth from coming out.