Team to search Douma for toxic ev­i­dence

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

THE HAGUE: In­spec­tors from the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons (OPCW) are due to start work in Douma, out­side the Syr­ian cap­i­tal to­day. In ad­di­tion to col­lect­ing sam­ples, they will be look­ing for other clues to help de­ter­mine whether banned tox­ins were used in an at­tack on April 7. The fact-find­ing mis­sion will not as­sign blame.

Here is an over­view of its ob­jec­tives and chal­lenges:

A pri­or­ity will be col­lect­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and bio­med­i­cal sam­ples from vic­tims and the scene of the at­tack. The sam­ples will be re­turned to the OPCW’s main lab­o­ra­tory in the Nether­lands. The sam­ples are gen­er­ally split, up to four times in some cases, and sent to in­de­pen­dent na­tional lab­o­ra­to­ries af­fil­i­ated with the OPCW.

The in­spec­tors are bound to a strict chain of cus­tody pro­ce­dure, which means they must be present when a sam­ple is taken and it must re­main in their pos­ses­sion.

By the time en­vi­ron­men­tal sam­ples are taken in Douma it will have been a week since the al­leged at­tack. This makes it more dif­fi­cult to col­lect ev­i­dence than a nor­mal crime scene, where au­thor­i­ties of­ten ar­rive within hours. The team will work as quickly as pos­si­ble to col­lect any sam­ples of chlo­rine and sarin – which it pre­vi­ously found to have been used in the civil war – or other poi­sonous chem­i­cals.

Chlo­rine dis­si­pates rapidly and in some cases is no longer trace­able af­ter a day. Other chem­i­cal com­pounds, such as sarin, might be found days or even weeks later. The in­spec­tors will also be look­ing for other ev­i­dence, such as can­is­ters, rocket or bomb frag­ments, im­pact sites and craters and will take pho­to­graphs and video of them. The de­liv­ery mech­a­nisms of­ten con­tain traces of chem­i­cals.

Wit­nesses have spo­ken of hear­ing the whis­tle of bar­rel bombs fall­ing from the sky. Th­ese have been widely used in the Syr­ian war, as pre­vi­ously doc­u­mented by the OPCW’s fact-find­ing mis­sion. Some car­ried can­is­ters of chlo­rine and an ex­plo­sive charge. Th­ese, if found, could be proof of a chem­i­cal at­tack.

The team will in­ter­view emer­gency re­spon­ders, sur­vivors, med­i­cal staff who treated vic­tims and other wit­nesses to de­ter­mine whether they suf­fered from symp­toms as­so­ci­ated with chem­i­cals. Th­ese might in­clude suf­fo­cat­ing, foam­ing at the mouth, con­stricted pupils, con­vul­sions and in­vol­un­tary uri­na­tion or defecation.

Fight­ing be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and rebels in Douma, a town in the Ghouta re­gion east of Da­m­as­cus, has ceased, but se­cu­rity risks re­main. In­spec­tors have twice come un­der fire while try­ing to get to the site of chem­i­cal weapons sites in Syria.

In Au­gust 2013, they were shot at by a sniper near eastern Ghouta, where hun­dreds of peo­ple had been gassed with the nerve agent sarin. In May 2014, a con­voy of ve­hi­cles car­ry­ing in­spec­tors was hit by ex­plo­sives and au­to­matic gun­fire while trav­el­ling to the north­ern town of Kafr Zita. They were briefly held cap­tive. No one was se­ri­ously wounded ei­ther at­tack. No cul­prits were iden­ti­fied. – Reuters/African News Agency

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.