Official says United Nations team fired on at Syria site

by Garry Watts April 19, 2018, 1:45
Official says United Nations team fired on at Syria site

Inspectors from the Office for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were still seeking access to the site of a chemical attack in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, on Wednesday after reports emerged that a United Nations security team conducting reconnaissance came under gunfire a day earlier.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been thrust once again into the global limelight by a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain and allegations of a chemical bombardment on the Syrian city of Douma.

Syrians walk through destruction in the town of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, near Damascus, Syria, Monday, April 16, 2018.

It concluded in 2016 that Syrian government forces had several times used chlorine as a chemical weapons, and in 2017 it blamed Assad's government for a sarin attack.

The investigators had arrived Saturday, shortly after the airstrikes had taken place.

The United States has raised concerns that Russian Federation might have tampered with evidence on the scene - a charge Russian Federation vehemently denies - and it remains to be seen what investigators will find and what they'll have access to.

OPCW inspectors plan to gather soil and other samples to help identify any chemicals that might have been used.

Syria and Russian Federation deny unleashing poison gas on April 7 during their offensive on Douma, which ended with the recapture of the town that had been the last rebel stronghold near the capital, Damascus. Syria and its main allies Iran and Russian Federation blamed Israel for that attack.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov earlier suggested that the inspectors' visit to the site had been delayed as a result of the Western air strikes.

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United Nations Security Council-mandated inspectors have probed previous attacks and decided President Assad's regime was responsible four times, MPs were told.

The OPCW certified in 2013 that the Syrian government had turned over all its declared chemical stockpiles, noting that the two caches unaccounted for were in rebel-held territory. The countries that have not signed it are Egypt, South Sudan and North Korea.

The 100 missiles launched from U.S., French and British ships and warplanes were aimed at three targets: the Barzah chemical weapons research and development site in the Damascus area; a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs; and a chemical-weapons bunker a few miles from the second target.

AP's Matt Lee pointed out that United States intelligence had been "completely wrong" on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in 2003 and both the OPCW and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had disagreed with such intelligence at the time.

The officials said they had videos and photos showing the remnants of at least two chlorine barrel bombs from the attacks with features consistent with chlorine barrel bombs from past attacks.

There was no comment from the OPCW or the United Nations on Wednesday.

Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has claimed the air strikes were "legally questionable" and questioned the proof that the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack in Douma.

Ms May said her government respected the convention under which MPs should have a say before troops are deployed overseas, but pointed to a statement from former defence secretary Michael Fallon in 2016 outlining an exception to the convention, when consulting MPs in advance could endanger an operation.

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