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CBW Events -- July 2007 selections

Each month, entries for a few anniversaries of notable CBW Events are posted. All will appear in the relevant final versions of the chronologies.

[Editorial note: This month's sample of entries has an exclusive focus on the fortieth anniversary of the last alleged use of chemical weapons in the Yemen civil war. With the more recent attention on the use of chemical methods of warfare by Iraq, the use of chemical weapons by Egypt (operating under the name of the United Arab Republic) in the Yemen has been largely forgotten. Following some years of fighting, the war in Yemen was brought to a swift conclusion as part of the attempts to forge Arab unity in the aftermath of the Six-day Arab-Israeli War of June 1967.]

40 years ago:

2 July 1967     Egyptian aircraft attack on the villages of Beni Sahm and Shaukan in the Yemen, killing 45 persons, including children, according to press reports. Many animals are also said to have died.[1]
     "British intelligence sources" are cited two weeks later as saying that two Egyptian Ilyushin bombers dropped high explosive and gas bombs on Beni Sahm village, south of Wadi Khiran, in this attack.[2]
[1] [no author listed] (from Jeddah), "Egyptian gas attacks kill 45 Yemenis", Times (London), 7 July 1967; David Smiley, "Egypt and gas attacks in Yemen", letter to the editor, Times (London), 14 July 1967.

[2] [no author listed] (from Aden), Reuter, as in: "50 killed in gas raid on Yemen", Times (London), 19 July 1967.

 

3 July 1967     In London, a junior Foreign Minister tells the House of Commons: "We have received well-substantiated reports that lethal gas was used several times during May in the mountainous region east of Sana. There has also been a less well-substantiated report of it having been used again in the Yemen last month. Both a mustard-gas type and a choking gas have been used on different occasions."[1]
[1] George Thomson, Minister of State, Foreign Office, Written Answer, 3 July 1967, Hansard (Commons), vol 749, c170-71, in response to a question from John Biggs-Davison.

 

3 July 1967     An American magazine, US News & World Report, publishes Red Cross documents relating to the situation in Yemen in the edition dated today (but which has been available on news stands for some days).[1] The magazine introduces the texts with the following paragraph: "Published below, for the first time, is the proof that Egypt used poison gas in its war against Yemen. The proof is in these secret documents of the International Red Cross. The full text has not appeared before in English". [Note: see also the ICRC press release of 2 June which states that the Red Cross delegates had "collected various indications pointing to the use of poison gas".]
     The first document is signed by two doctors -- Raymond Janin and Willy Brutschin -- and dated 18 May 1967:

The undersigned doctors, members of the International Committee of the Red Cross medical mission to the Yemen, arrived at Gahar [North Yemen] in the Wadi Harran, on May 15, 1967, following an appeal for assistance from the inhabitants who claimed to have been under gas attack by airplanes on the morning of May 10, 1967.

     The following statements were made by the inhabitants who witnessed the incident:

     1.  Seventy-five persons died of poison gas shortly after the raid.

     They showed the following symptoms: shortness of breath, coughing, pink foam at the mouth, general edema, especially the face; no physical injuries.

     2.  The undersigned doctors examined the four surviving victims and observed the following:

     -- Subjective symptoms: burning eyes and trachea, internal thorax pain, extreme fatigue, anorexia.

     -- Objective symptoms: dry cough, negative auscultation in two patients, signs of bronchitis in the other two, conjunctivitis, facial edema, no traumatic lesions, tympanum intact.

     3.  The undersigned doctors examined a corpse, four days after death and 12 hours after burial. Immediately, the common grave was opened, and, well before the corpses -- which were only wrapped in shrouds, without coffins -- were visible, there was a sweet penetrating smell not unlike garlic. The bodies showed no traumatic lesions. The skin was pink. Advanced and general odema all over the body.

     Examination of lungs: reddish-brown throughout, enlargement, consistence and fragility greatly increased, crepitation considerably reduced.

     The undersigned doctors draw the following logical conclusions from their findings:

     I.  None of the victims examined, whether survivors or corpses exhumed from the common grave, showed any traumatic lesions.

     II.  The statements made by witnesses who escaped from the raid unharmed, in respect of the circumstances in which 75 inhabitants were killed, are consistent with the International Committee of the Red Cross medical mission's own findings by examination of the four survivors and the corpse exhumed from one of the common graves.

     III.  The cause of death in the case of the corpse examined was pulmonary edema. The over-all consistency of the ICRC medical mission's findings shows that in all probability this pulmonary edema was caused by inhalation of toxic gas.

The second document is a forensic medical report by the University of Bern Institute of Forensic Medicine signed by the Director of the Institute, DE Lauppi:

In accordance with your instructions of May 21, 1967, we have duly examined the report drawn up by two doctors of the International Committee of the Red Cross on observations made by them after the bombing of a village in the Yemen. Their investigations can be summarized in the following manner.

     1.  Information collected from the survivors in that village regarding the death of 75 persons.

     2.  Medical examination of four survivors.

     3.  Examination of a corpse four days after death and 12 hours after burial.

     The phenomena observed are the effects of skin irritation, conjunctivitis and of mucus in the respiratory tract and lungs. General edema had been noted, especially facial and also haemorrhagic pulmonary edema. On autopsy, red hepatization and a liquid of reddish scrapings were observed in the lungs.

     The observations collected are gradually diversified and unspecific, but form a definite entity as a whole.

     We know of no epidemical disease presenting a similar symptomatology or clinical development. The conclusion, according to which the death of the deceased persons as a result of bombing is ascribed to a toxic gas, seems to us to be perfectly justified. This conclusion is supported by the total absence of traumatic lesions caused by the effects of pressure-explosion.

     Amongst the various poison gases which can produce the effects observed, phosphonic esters -- nervine gas -- would not, in our opinion, be involved, in view of the local irritations observed. Their effects would, moreover, have been characterized by copious salivation, myositis and muscular cramp.

     On the other hand, the employment of halogenous derivatives -- phosgene, mustard gas, lewisite, chloride or cyanogen bromide, or Clark I and II, etc. -- would appear to us the most likely. However, neither bromide nor cyanogen chloride causes an edemic irritation of the skin. This also applies to phosgene.

     As against this, all the symptoms observed are explainable by the hypothesis of the use of mustard gas, lewisite or similar substances. The odor resembling garlic, smelled on opening the common grave, would indicate the employment rather of mustard gas. These toxic substances are pulverized when the bomb explodes in the form of aerosol.

Red Cross officials confirm that the report was indeed drawn up by the Red Cross.[2]
[1] [no author listed], "How Nasser Used Poison Gas", US News & World Report, 3 July 1967, p 60.
[2] [no author listed] (from Geneva), "Yemen gas details published", Observer (London), 2 July 1967, p 2.

 

6 July 1967     In the British Parliament a debate on the situation in the Middle East is punctuated with references to the situation in the Yemen civil war.
     For example, former Conservative Cabinet Minister, Duncan Sandys, says, "From the report of the International Red Cross, it is now clear beyond all doubt that poison gas has been dropped on the villages of the tribes which oppose the Egyptian occupation and that quite a large number of people have suffered an agonising death. It is the height of hypocrisy for Nasser to complain, without any supporting evidence, that Israel used napalm in the recent war, while he himself continues to attack his fellow Arabs with poison gas."[1]
     A second Conservative, John Biggs-Davison, refers to "to the atrocious use of poison gas in the Yemen by Egypt, a signatory of the Geneva Protocol". He goes on: "Before the Second World War, when Mussolini used poison gas in Abyssinia, the horror and protests were world-wide. But when some of us raised this atrocious action [in the Yemen] by way not only of early day Motions, but also of Parliamentary Questions, the Government told us that protests and action should be left in the first instance to those primarily affected." He adds: "There is much talk nowadays of world opinion. Some think of the United Nations as some kind of repository of the universal conscience. If there is such a thing as world opinion, it is strangely selective in its indignation. The United Nations has been silent. I hope that the Government will make at least Britain's voice heard and will not rest content with leaving it to others".[2]
     Closing the debate, Foreign Secretary George Brown, referring to earlier Parliamentary exchanges on the subject [see 19 June], says: "It seemed to me then and still seems to me that the killing and maiming of Arabs by Arabs in this way is a matter for the Arabs themselves to raise in the United Nations in the first place". He goes on to say: "I do not wash my hands of what is happening. I condemn the U.A.R. for the action of using poison gas in this way. I believe that they stand condemned before the whole world. It is not for me or for this country to raise in the United Nations what is, in effect and in fact, an offence against another country. It is for that country to raise it and then for us to take our stand on the issue when it is raised. I think we will be wise to take this particular line". The Foreign Secretary is asked by Sandys whether he realises "that the Government against which this offence is being committed, which is the legal Government of the Yemen and recognised by the British Government, is not represented in the United Nations? As one of the Governments which recognise the Royal Government of the Yemen is it not the duty of the British Government to raise this matter at the United Nations?" Brown responds: "Frankly, I do not see it as the duty of the British Government. The Saudi Arabians themselves have been affected by this and the Saudi Arabian Government, who have been very busy condemning us in another respect, might decide that they wish to raise this. I do not believe it to be the business of the British Government actually to raise it, but that is quite distinct from the stand which we would take were it to be raised".[3]
[1] Duncan Sandys (Streatham), 6 July 1967, Hansard (Commons), vol 749, c2041-42.

[2] John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell), 6 July 1967, Hansard (Commons), vol 749, c2066-68.

[3] George Brown, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 6 July 1967, Hansard (Commons), vol 749, c2066-68.

 

15 July 1967     Egyptian aircraft attack the Yemeni village of Hajjah, according to Saudi Arabian-backed Royalist sources. Initial reports indicate that 50 fatalities have been caused by the attack, with a further 175 casualties classified as "hopeless" and more than 200 additional individuals described as suffering severe injuries.[1] The attack is said to have been made by four Egyptian Ilyushin bombers, dropping a total of some 60 bombs.[2]
     "Usually reliable sources" in Aden provide the media with updated casualty figures a few days later as 150 dead, 157 dying and 200 suffering eye and lung injuries.[3]
[1] [no author listed] (from Aden), Reuter, as in: "50 killed in gas raid on Yemen", Times (London), 19 July 1967; David Smiley, ""50 killed " in Egyptian gas attack", Daily Telegraph (London), 19 July 1967, p 20.

[2] [no author listed] (from Aden), "Egypt’s gas war on Yemen stepped up", Daily Telegraph (London), 20 July 1967.

[3] [no author listed] (from Aden), Associated Press, as in: "Egypt warns Royalists of gas raids", Daily Telegraph (London), 21 July 1967.

 

19 July 1967     Recent alleged uses of chemical weapons in the Yemen civil war [see 15 July] provoke editorials in western newspapers.
     The Times writes: "Another report of an Egyptian air attack on a Yemeni village with poison gas will once again prompt the question why the United Nations is not made to take action". Noting the position taken by the Government in Parliament that is up to an affected state to raise a compliant, the paper records: "Not even Saudi Arabia, the most nearly concerned, is going to stir up an inter-Arab row which would divert attention from Israel. Egypt continues to deny that it is using gas and would dispute any evidence produced. Herein lies the difficulty." Following reporting by the Red Cross [see 2 June and 3 July]: "Most people who read all the reports - uneven as they are - will be more than satisfied with the circumstantial evidence. But proof that will stand up in legal proceedings is, in the British official view, hard to establish. It is almost necessary for an attack to be witnessed by an unquestionable authority, and certainly necessary for the victims to be examined soon after being struck down". The editorial concludes: "It is dangerous as well as disgusting that any country should be allowed to get away with a flagrant breach of the Geneva convention merely because it operates so far from world scrutiny. ... The behaviour of Egypt, always so quick to accuse others of atrocities, needs determined investigation".[1]
     The Daily Telegraph writes: "Britain has one thing in common with the kingdom of the Yemen. Anything Nasser could safely do to harm us he has done, in the way of economic aggression. Since he has done his worst already, any timid reason for not following the proper course of policy ceases to have validity. Britain should seek with the Imam's Government ways of alleviating the sufferings of the Yemenis and aiding them against this pitiless bombing war".[2]
[1] [no author listed, editorial], "Gas warfare in Yemen", Times (London), 19 July 1967.

[2] [no author listed, editorial], "Nasser’s Gas War", Daily Telegraph (London), 19 July 1967. p 14.

 

26 July 1967     In London, Duncan Sandys, Manny Shinwell and Jeremy Thorpe [all senior Members of Parliament and each representing a different political party] meet with the Foreign Secretary, George Brown, on the subject of the allegations of use of chemical weapons in Yemen. They cite a recent Early Day Motion that reads: "That this House deplores the continued use of poison gas by the Egyptian forces in the Yemen and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to raise the matter urgently at the United Nations".[1]
     The three Members of Parliament strongly urge the Foreign Secretary to take steps, through the United Nations or otherwise, to try and prevent a continuance of these atrocities. Brown states that the British Government deplores the use of poison gas by the UAR armed forces, an act for which there is no possible justification. He says that the British Government will be consulting with other Governments as to the best means of putting a stop to stop what the FCO calls a clear breach of generally accepted rules of conduct.[2]
[1] A M Rendel, "Britain seeks talks on Yemen gas", Times (London), 28 July 1967, p 1.

[2] Foreign Office statement, 27 July 1967, as quoted in "CB Disarmament Negotiations, 1920-1970", [Volume IV of The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare series], (Stockholm/Uppsala: SIPRI/Almqvist & Wiksells, 1971), p 246.

 

27 July 1967     In Washington, DC, the US State Department states it is still disturbed by the many reports of the use of poison gas against civilians in the Yemen.[1] The United States says it would "support international action" against this "inhumane" practice. Some commentators interpret this US move as attempting to diminish Arab unity in the wake of the six-day war by putting a wedge between Arab countries[2]
[1] A M Rendel, "Britain seeks talks on Yemen gas", Times (London), 28 July 1967, p 1.

[2] Juan de Onis, "Saudis, to Preserve Arab Unity, Won't Press Poison-Gas Issue", New York Times, 30 July 1967.

 

28 July 1967     The New York Times publishes a Red Cross report.[1] The newspaper introduces the text with the following paragraph: "Following is the text of a report by André Rochat, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation to Yemen". [See also 2 June and 3 July.]

On May 11, 1967, the I.C.R.C. delegation in Jidda received appeals for assistance from the two villages of Gadafa and Gahar in the Wadi Herran, in the southwestern Jauf. According to those appeals a proportion of the inhabitants of these villages had been poisoned by gas dropped from raiding airplanes.

     Some hours later this news was confirmed by representatives of the Yemeni Royalists and by the Saudi Arabian authoritics, who requested the I.C.R.C. delegation to go immediately to the assistance of the victims.

     The head of the delegation decided to proceed immediately to the scene accompanied by another delegate, two doctors and a male nurse; members of the I.C.R.C. medical team, and a Yemeni escort. The two-lorry convoy, loaded with food and medical supplies, left Amara on May 13, after having given due notice of its line of march and time-table to the Egyptian authorities.

     Unfortunately, following an air attack on the I.C.R.C. convoy, it was not until the night of May 15-16 that the mission reached Gahar. This village is situated atop a hill some 500 feet in height. All the houses are clustered closely together, giving the appearance of a small fortress.

     Account of survivors

     According to the inhabitants, 75 people were gassed during a raid in the hours of May 10, 1967.

     The account given by the survivors is as follows:

     The bombers circled the village for some time then dropped three bombs on the hillside, east of and below the village, two or three hundreds [sic] yards away to windward (wind direction from east to west).

     No houses were damaged. The explosions were relatively mild. The bomb craters were about eight feet in diameter and 20 inches deep, smaller than the usual craters. Twenty minutes after dropping the three gas bombs, the planes dropped four or five high-explosive bombs on the village and the western flank of the hill. Only one of these bombs caused any damage; this was sustained by a house in the center of the village. Many animals, including almost 200 cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and numerous birds, were also killed. The villagers, who were not contaminated, buried the dead animals in a large pit, whilst the 75 humans killed were buried in four large communal graves.

     Report of Observations

     The I.C.R.C. delegates, for their part, observed the following:

     They inspected the village for several hours, checking, whenever possible, the accuracy of the information mentioned above.

     The doctors examined the four surviving gas casualties. Their medical report is attached hereto.

     The head of the mission had one of the four communal graves opened. There were 15 corpses in it. An immediate autopsy by Dr. Brutschin and Dr. Janin left no doubt that death was due to pulmonary edema (see attached medical report and photograph).

     The 75 gas casualties were either within range of the gas when it was released or were in its path as it was blown by the wind. Some of the victims were found dead in their homes, as if they had died in their sleep.

     Other inhabitants, working in the fields or watching over the livestock, were eastward of the area where the gas bombs fell, some of them very near to the spot, and none of them were affected.

     The four survivors who were in the contaminated area are all in pain from their eyes and almost blind. All have pains in the chest and none has any wound.

     The doctors cannot testify to an air raid with gas bombs of which they were not personally witness. On the other hand, they stress that all the evidence leads to the conclusion that edema was caused by the breathing of poison gas.

     The delegates were later informed that on May 17 and 18 the villages of Gabas, Nofal, Gadr and, for the second time, Gadafa were raided with gas bombs and that as a result 243 persons were killed.

[1] [no author listed], "Text of the Red Cross Report on the Use of Poison Gas in Yemen", New York Times, 28 July 1967.

 

30 July 1967     In London, the Sunday Times publishes an editorial on the situation in Yemen, stating "[Foreign Secretary] George Brown's belated recognition that action by the Government is called for over the alleged use of poison gas by the Egyptians in the Yemen is to be welcomed. The paper suggests: "The first priority is publicly to establish the facts. Mr Brown's promise to consult with other Governments should have as its objective the dispatch to the Yemen of a United Nations investigating team. If it confirms the gas stories, then Britain and other governments need to work for the strongest possible expression of world opinion against what would be the latest, though certainly not the last, example of human inhumanity".[1]
[1] [no author listed, editorial], "Gas in the Yemen war", Sunday Times (London), 30 July 1967.

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(last update, RG, 3 July 2007)