Rus­sia may have tam­pered with chem­i­cal at­tack site, US en­voy says

Financial Chronicle - - AROUND THE GLOBE -

Rus­sia may have tam­pered with the site of an al­leged chem­i­cal weapons at­tack in Syria’s Douma, the U.S. en­voy to the global watch­dog said on Mon­day, urg­ing the body to con­demn the con­tin­u­ing use of banned chem­i­cal weapons.

The com­ments came dur­ing a closed-door meet­ing at the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons, con­vened af­ter an April 7 at­tack in the town of Douma, out­side the Syr­ian cap­i­tal, in which dozens of peo­ple were al­legedly killed with poi­son gas. “It is long over­due that this coun­cil con­demns the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment for its reign of chem­i­cal ter­ror and de­mands in­ter­na­tional ac­count­abil­ity for those re­spon­si­ble for these heinous acts,” U.S. Am­bas­sador Ken­neth Ward said in com­ments ob­tained by Reuters.

“It is our un­der­stand­ing the Rus­sians may have vis­ited the at­tack site. It is our con­cern that they may have tam­pered with it with the in­tent of thwart­ing the ef­forts of the OPCW Fact-Find­ing Mis­sion to con­duct an ef­fec­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

The United States, Britain and France fired more than 100 mis­siles at three al­leged chem­i­cal weapons fa­cil­i­ties on Fri­day, an­ger­ing Syria’s mil­i­tary backer Moscow, which threat­ened to re­tal­i­ate.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said the strikes had ac­com­plished their aim of un­der­min­ing ef­forts by the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment to pro­duce and use chem­i­cal weapons again in vi­o­la­tion of the Chem­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion.

OPCW in­spec­tors were vis­it­ing sites in Douma on Mon­day where they were aim­ing to col­lect sam­ples, in­ter­view wit­nesses and doc­u­ment ev­i­dence to de­ter­mine whether banned toxic mu­ni­tions were used.

It has been more than a week since the at­tack in which wit­nesses and West­ern gov­ern­ments de­scribed he­li­copters drop­ping sarin and chlo­rine bombs that killed many chil­dren and women hid­ing from clashes be­tween rebels and gov­ern­ment troops. A diplo­matic source told Reuters ev­i­dence may have been re­moved while in­spec­tors ne­go­ti­ated ac­cess with Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties. Syria and Rus­sia deny chem­i­cal weapons were used in the fi­nal of­fen­sive that cap­tured Douma, a rebel-held ter­ri­tory east of Da­m­as­cus.

The Bri­tish en­voy to the OPCW said it had recorded 390 al­le­ga­tions of the use of banned chem­i­cals in Syria since 2014, and that a fail­ure by the OPCW to act risked al­low­ing “fur­ther bar­baric use of chem­i­cal weapons”.

Syria joined the OPCW, the or­gan­i­sa­tion tasked with mon­i­tor­ing ad­her­ence to the 1997 con­ven­tion, in 2013 af­ter a sarin gas at­tack that killed hun­dreds of peo­ple in Ghouta. The move was part of a joint Rus­sian-U.S. deal that averted mil­i­tary ac­tion threat­ened by then-pres­i­dent Barack Obama. Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Putin warned on Sun­day that fur­ther West­ern at­tacks on Syria would bring chaos to world af­fairs, as Wash­ing­ton pre­pared to in­crease pres­sure on Rus­sia with new eco­nomic sanc­tions.

Mem­bers of the 41-seat ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil of the OPCW were due to dis­cuss the al­leged use of pro­hib­ited tox­ins in Syria, but were not ex­pected to reach any agree­ment about a re­sponse. The or­gan­i­sa­tion, which needs a two-thirds ma­jor­ity to take de­ci­sions, has been un­der­mined by deep po­lit­i­cal divi­sion over the use of chem­i­cal weapons by the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment. The OPCW in­spec­tors will not as­sign blame for at­tacks. A joint United Na­tions-OPCW mis­sion con­cluded that troops under Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad had used chem­i­cal weapons sev­eral times in re­cent years, in­clud­ing a year ago in Khan Sheikhoun.

An im­age grab taken from a video re­leased by the Syr­ian civil de­fence in Douma shows uniden­ti­fied vol­un­teers giv­ing aid to chil­dren at a hos­pi­tal fol­low­ing an al­leged chem­i­cal at­tack on the re­bel­held town on April 8, 2018

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