Chem­i­cal probe un­der cloud

Khaleej Times - - MIDDLE EAST -

da­m­as­cus — In­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tors on Tues­day en­tered a Syr­ian town hit by an al­leged chem­i­cal at­tack, af­ter days of de­lay and warn­ings by West­ern pow­ers that cru­cial ev­i­dence had likely been re­moved.

The sus­pected gas at­tack on April 7 on Douma, near Da­m­as­cus, re­port­edly left more than 40 peo­ple dead and was blamed by West­ern pow­ers on the regime of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al As­sad.

In re­sponse, the United States, France and Britain con­ducted un­prece­dented mis­sile strikes on Syr­ian mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions, but Paris ad­mit­ted on Tues­day they were a mat­ter of “hon­our” that had solved noth­ing.

“Ex­perts from the chem­i­cal weapons com­mit­tee en­ter the town of Douma,” state news agency Sana wrote, re­fer­ring to the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons (OPCW).

The in­spec­tors ar­rived in Da­m­as­cus on the day of the West­ern strikes but had not been al­lowed to en­ter Douma.

France and the United States ap­peared to ques­tion the pur­pose of such a mis­sion, warn­ing that any in­crim­i­nat­ing ev­i­dence had likely been re­moved by now.

“It is highly likely that ev­i­dence and es­sen­tial el­e­ments dis­ap­pear from the site, which is com­pletely con­trolled by the Rus­sian and Syr­ian armies,” the French for­eign min­istry said.

The US am­bas­sador to the OPCW, Ken Ward, had claimed on Mon­day that the Rus­sians had al- ready vis­ited the site and “may have tam­pered with it”.

In an im­pas­sioned de­fence to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment on Tues­day, France’s Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron ad­mit­ted that Satur­day’s strikes had been a more po­lit­i­cal than mil­i­tary de­ci­sion.

“Three coun­tries have in­ter­vened, and let me be quite frank, quite hon­est — this is for the hon­our of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity,” he said in the French city of Stras­bourg.

“These strikes don’t nec­es­sar­ily re­solve any­thing but I think they were im­por­tant,” Macron added.

The French leader was also set to strip Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al As­sad of a pres­ti­gious award he was granted by for­mer pres­i­dent Jacques Chirac in 2001. “The El­y­see con­firms that a dis­ci­plinary pro­ce­dure for with­draw­ing the Le­gion d’Hon­neur (Le­gion of Hon­our) is un­der way,” Macron’s of­fice said.

The war of words con­tin­ued to spi­ral be­tween the Rus­sian­backed Syria regime and the West but a mil­i­tary es­ca­la­tion looked to have been averted de­spite both sides trad­ing threats af­ter the strikes.

Yet, a re­port on state news agency Sana that Syr­ian air de­fences had shot down mis­siles over Homs prov­ince overnight raised fears that fur­ther ac­tion had in­deed been taken. —

Three coun­tries have in­ter­vened, and let me be quite frank, quite hon­est — this is for the hon­our of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Em­manuel Macron, French Pres­i­dent

AP

Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties dis­trib­ute bread, veg­eta­bles and pasta to Douma res­i­dents . —

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