Ex­perts cleared to en­ter gas at­tack site

The Australian - - WORLD - DA­M­AS­CUS:

State-run me­dia said Syria’s air de­fences had con­fronted a new “ag­gres­sion”, shoot­ing down mis­siles over the cen­tral re­gion of Homs yes­ter­day.

The strike came ahead of the sched­uled ar­rival in Douma to­day of chem­i­cal-weapons ex­perts to in­ves­ti­gate a poi­son gas at­tack.

The re­ports did not say who car­ried out the pre-dawn strikes in Homs, the re­gion host­ing two of the three chem­i­cal weapons fa­cil­i­ties tar­geted by a mass al­lied mis­sile at­tack on Satur­day.

Syr­ian Cen­tral Me­dia said the mis­siles tar­geted the al-Shayrat air base, from where Syr­ian air­craft last year launched a gas at­tack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Last April Don­ald Trump or­dered a re­tal­ia­tory strike in which 59 Tom­a­hawk mis­sile were un­leashed on the air­field.

Ear­lier this month four Ira­nian troops were killed in an air strike on Syria’s T4 air base in Homs. Syria and its al­lies Iran and Rus­sia blamed the April 9 at­tack on Is­rael, which de­clined to com­ment.

Is­rael also re­fused to con­firm or deny yes­ter­day’s raid.

A Pen­tagon spokes­woman said there were no US or coali­tion op­er­a­tions in that area yes­ter­day.

On Satur­day the US, Britain and France fired 105 mis­siles at the chem­i­cal weapons joints in Homs and Da­m­as­cus. The strikes were in re­sponse to the April 7 chlo­rine and pos­si­ble sarin gas at­tack that killed at least 87 peo­ple in Douma, a town in the then rebel-held en­clave of Eastern Ghouta.

The US, Britain, France and Rus­sia faced off on Mon­day night in emer­gency talks at the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons in The Hague.

OPCW di­rec­tor-gen­eral Ah­met Uzumcu said his nine­strong, vol­un­teer team had reached Da­m­as­cus but had yet to de­ploy to Douma. Syr­ian and Rus­sian of­fi­cials had warned of “pend­ing se­cu­rity is­sues to be worked out be­fore any de­ploy­ment could take place,” Mr Uzumcu said.

Igor Kir­illov, head of Rus­sia’s ra­di­o­log­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal and chem­i­cal pro­tec­tion unit, said the roads still had to be de-mined and cleared and were to be tested by UN se­cu­rity ser­vices last night.

“On Wed­nes­day is when we plan the ar­rival of the OPCW ex­perts,” he said at the Rus­sian em­bassy in The Hague.

How­ever, the US am­bas­sador to the OPCW, Ken Ward, said the Rus­sians had al­ready vis­ited the site and “may have tam­pered with it with the in­tent of thwart­ing the ef­forts of the OPCW fact-find­ing mis­sion”. The Krem­lin dis­missed the claims. “I can guar­an­tee that Rus­sia has not tam­pered with the site,” For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov told the BBC.

Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to The Nether­lands, Alexan­der Shulgin, also called the claim a “bla­tant lie”. He said the al­lies were “stand­ing in the way” of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by or­der­ing air strikes “in the blink of an eye” be­fore the OPCW team had had a chance to do its work.

De­spite the OPCW team be­ing de­layed, Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties or­gan­ised a tour of the town for the for­eign press, in­clud­ing a visit to the main hos­pi­tal to which vic­tims of the al­leged gas at­tack where taken.

Med­i­cal stu­dent Mar­wan Jaber said no chem­i­cal weapons were used on April 7. “Suf­fo­ca­tion cases ar­rived as a re­sult of the de­bris, dust, fire and smoke. They were given rou­tine treat­ment,” he said.

The mis­siles fired from al­lied ships and air­craft on Satur­day con­sti­tuted the big­gest West­ern at­tack against the regime in the seven-year war against Syr­ian dic­ta­tor Bashar al-As­sad. The tar­geted sites were largely empty and said to be fa­cil­i­ties for chem­i­cal weapons stor­age or pro­duc­tion.

Fol­low­ing the Satur­day strikes, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron faced anger from their MPs. De­spite polls show­ing scant sup­port for the move, Mrs May said it had been her “re­spon­si­bil­ity as Prime Min­is­ter to make these de­ci­sions”, while Mr Macron de­fended his move as part of his con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers.

France urged OPCW na­tions to boost the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s work so it could com­pletely dis­man­tle Syria’s “se­cret” toxic weapons pro­gram. And the US called for a clear con­dem­na­tion by the OPCW of “the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment for its reign of chem­i­cal ter­ror”.

The three West­ern pow­ers warned they would re­peat the strikes if Syria used chem­i­cal weapons again.

Syr­ian regime forces have now en­tered Douma and de­clared the en­tire Eastern Ghouta re­gion fully re­taken, end­ing a five-year siege and re­claim­ing an op­po­si­tion bas­tion on the edge of the cap­i­tal.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.