Chem­i­cal block­ade

Rus­sia ac­cused of at­tack cover-up


CHEM­I­CAL weapons in­spec­tors try­ing to get to the site of an ap­par­ent chlo­rine gas at­tack that trig­gered West­ern air strikes on Syria have been blocked by Rus­sian and Syria of­fi­cials.

Ah­met Uzumcu, the chief of the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons, said the team of in­spec­tors had been held up in Da­m­as­cus by Syr­ian and Rus­sian of­fi­cials who told them there were “se­cu­rity is­sues to be sorted out.’’

Mr Uzumcu said on Mon­day a fact-find­ing team had trav­elled to Da­m­as­cus on Satur­day in re­sponse to the ap­par­ent chlo­rine gas at­tack in the rebel-held en­clave of Douma on April 7. Dozens of peo­ple in­clud­ing chil­dren are be­lieved to have been killed and the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion re­ported up to 500 in­jured.

The Syr­ian regime de­nies in­volve­ment in the at­tack, as does Rus­sia, the main backer of Syr­ian leader Bashar alAs­sad, but the West has di­rectly blamed the regime. The US, UK and France launched re­tal­ia­tory air strikes on Satur­day, hours be­fore the weapons in­spec­tors were sent into Syria.

“The team has not yet de- ployed to Douma. The Syr­ian and the Rus­sian of­fi­cials who par­tic­i­pated in the prepara­tory meet­ings in Da­m­as­cus have in­formed the … team that there were still pend­ing se­cu­rity is­sues to be worked out be­fore any de­ploy­ment could take place,’’ Mr Uzumcu said.

He said Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties had of­fered them in­ter­views with 22 wit­nesses who would be brought to Da­m­as­cus.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion’s UK del­e­ga­tion tweeted that: “Rus­sia & Syria have not yet al­lowed ac­cess to Douma. Un­fet­tered ac­cess es­sen­tial. Rus­sia & Syria must co-op­er­ate.”

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May told Par­lia­ment the pair were at­tempt­ing to cover up ev­i­dence of the at­tack.

“The Syr­ian regime has re- port­edly been at­tempt­ing to con­ceal the ev­i­dence by search­ing evac­uees from Douma to en­sure sam­ples are not be­ing smug­gled from this area, and a wider oper­a­tion to con­ceal the facts of the at­tack is un­der way, sup­ported by the Rus­sians,” Ms May said.

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov de­nied this, telling the BBC: “I can guar­an­tee that Rus­sia has not tam­pered with the site.”

Sup­port­ers of al-As­sad ral­lied in Da­m­as­cus to cheer the lim­ited na­ture of the air strikes.

While 105 mis­siles rained down on three sites in Da­m­as­cus and near Homs, the bom­bard­ment did not dam­age any ma­jor Syr­ian or Rus­sian in­fras­truc­ture or ma­chin­ery.

A man sur­veys dam­age in the war-torn Syr­ian town of Douma.

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