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.