First the chlorine, then chaos and death in Syria attack

Remigio Civitarese
Aprile 20, 2018

The experts from the OPCW chemical watchdog were awaiting the green light from the security team before beginning their on-site investigation in Douma of the alleged attack.

Sites near Damascus and Homs were hit on Saturday by the United States, France and UK in response to an alleged chemical attack on Douma on 7th April.

The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Thursday that terrorists in Syria's Douma had been preventing an OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) mission to access the site of the alleged chemical attack.

"At present, we do not know when the [Fact-Finding Mission] team can be deployed to Douma", Uzumcu told the OPCW's Executive Council, adding that he will only consider deploying the inspectors once the United Nations security team determines that it is safe and only if the inspectors get unhindered access to the site. "At site two, the team came under small arms fire and an explosive was detonated".

According to the United Nations report, a security team traveled to two sites on Tuesday escorted by Russian military police. Members of the security team were not injured and returned to Damascus after the incident.

An Associated Press team visited the site on a Syrian government-organized tour Monday, including a two-room underground shelter where one resident said 47 people were killed, including his pregnant wife and two young daughters.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu told a closed-door meeting of his organization that it remains unclear when the team will be able to deploy to Douma, U.K. Ambassador Peter Wilson told reporters in The Hague.

The United States accused Russian Federation on Monday of blocking worldwide inspectors from reaching the site of the poison gas attack.

The shooting occurred during a site visit to Douma, ahead of an expected visit to the area by a team of chemical weapons experts who have been delayed for days.

Former Douma residents now in northern Syria told The National anyone still in Douma was likely unable to speak freely for fear of retribution from the government. They say the arrival of the inspectors is being held up by Syrian authorities who now control the area, and that evidence of the chemical attack may be being destroyed.

Al-Ikhbariya TV says the fighters from the Army of Islam rebel group and their families have begun evacuating the town of Dumayr, bound for opposition-held areas in the north as part of the agreement.

"The regime is hiding all the evidence", said the member, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding it was "essential" the inspectors visit the site of the attack.

But the assessment also indicated that a large quantity of the chemical weapons was stored elsewhere and that Syria's chemical weapons programme, while crude, "is about as good as it needs to be for Assad's purposes", another official said.

Earlier this week, journalists from various Syrian and global news organisations also visited the area with the permission of the Syrian government.

He specifically accused them of "storming cemeteries in search of the victims of chemical substances".

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