PARIS: Photographs which claim to show Syrian volunteer rescue workers, known as the White Helmets, staging a chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta were actually taken from a film set, according to Factuel, an AFP fact-checking blog.
The White Helmets, a humanitarian organisation made up of some 3,000 volunteers, has regularly been the target of disinformation campaigns by the Syrian regime and conspiracy theorists online.
The photos – which show actors covered in dust, with bloody makeup and a clapper board – were presented by supporters of President Bashar al-Assad as proof that the alleged chlorine and sarin gas attack in the rebel-held town of Douma April 7 was fake.
But the photos come from the set of a Syrian film called “Revolution Man”, supported by the Syrian culture ministry, and were published in February on a Facebook page devoted to the movie.
The film’s premiere was also reported by the official Syrian news agency SANA March 9 – a month before the alleged chemical attack.
According to SANA, the film tells the story of a journalist in search of fame “who illegally enters Syria to take pictures and videos of the war”.
After failing to achieve his goal, he “fabricates a chemical attack to give his photos a global impact”, the agency said.
The investigative site Bellingcat reported the pictures were also shared by the Russian public channel Russia 1, which presented them as proof that the chemical attack was fake.
April 7 the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the White Helmets jointly said dozens of people died in a “poisonous chlorine gas attack” in Douma.
The White Helmets has often conducted daring rescues of people trapped in the rubble of bomb sites and their videos have frequently gone viral online.
The group has been credited with saving thousands of civilian lives.
The U.S., Britain and France launched missile strikes at the weekend in response to the alleged chemical attack.
France has said it has “proof” that “chemical weapons were used” by Assad’s regime. The Syrian government denies involvement.
Assad’s ally Russia has said it has “irrefutable evidence” that the chemical attack was “staged” with the help of the U.K.
Inspectors from the International Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons entered Douma Tuesday to begin a field investigation into the alleged attack.
But Western powers and experts have warned key evidence had likely already been removed or tampered with.
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