A purported top-secret letter from a commander in the Syrian military ordering soldiers near Damascus to start carrying gas masks is being widely circulated by opposition groups on social media and has raised alarm that a chemical attack might be coming.
(Click on letter to see full-sized version)
The letter, which is dated April 27th and signed by the commander of Division Seven of the Syrian Army, orders leaders of units in five cities south of Damascus to equip their soldiers with gas masks “due to the possibility that friendly forces will use chemical weapons.” Division Seven is based along a key strategic highway between the Golan Heights and Damascus and is involved in support operations to defend the capital and the roads leading to it. In the last several weeks, rebel forces have been trying to cut off supply lines to and from the city.
The letter, which is headlined “Top Secret,” asks unit leaders to give the “instructions the appropriate attention and confidentiality.” It has been shared thousands of times in rebel-affiliated groups on Facebook after a photograph of it was first posted on the social network by a Syrian opposition group on Sunday.
Five specific areas are mentioned in the letter – the cities of Kiswah, Zakya, Deir Khaibya, Drosha, and Khal Il-Sheikh.
Analysts tell Vocativ the letter, if authentic, is an indication that chemical weapons might be used in the Damascus area by Syrian soldiers against rebel forces. Syrian soldiers do not normally carry gas masks in the field, and doing so would be second highest level of preparedness — second only to actually wearing the equipment at all times.
Analysts also caution that the letter may be fake, cooked up by rebel groups to gain international sympathy — or produced by government forces as a psychological warfare tactic, meant to frighten opposition fighters.
The US intelligence community believes chemical weapons have already been deployed by the Assad regime and the US is considering what action to take.