Chem probe is stymied

Rus­sia and Syria block int’l team

New York Post - - NEWS - By MARK MOORE

In­ter­na­tional in­spec­tors have been blocked from the site of a deadly chem­i­cal-weapons at­tack in a Da­m­as­cus sub­urb be­cause Rus­sian and Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties said they can’t guar­an­tee the team’s safety, an in­de­pen­dent watch­dog said Mon­day.

“The Syr­ian and the Rus­sian of­fi­cials who par­tic­i­pated in the prepara­tory meet­ings in Da­m­as­cus have in­formed the fact-find­ing-mis­sion team that there were still pend­ing se­cu­rity is­sues to be worked out,” said Ah­met Üzümcü, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons.

Üzümcü said the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment in­stead of­fered in­spec­tors the chance to in­ter­view 22 “wit­nesses who could be brought to Da­m­as­cus.”

He con­firmed the team had ar­rived in Da­m­as­cus on Satur­day, but said they have not been able to pro­ceed to nearby Douma, where the chem­i­cal at­tack killed dozens and in­jured hun­dreds more on April 7.

“Syria and Rus­sia need to stop the dis­in­for­ma­tion and al­low un­fet­tered ac­cess to the at­tack sites,” State Depart­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert said.

The Krem­lin blamed the de­lay on the predawn airstrikes con­ducted by the US, Britain and France on Satur­day that tar­geted three Syr­ian fa­cil­i­ties used in the man­u­fac­ture of chem­i­cal weapons.

“We called for an ob­jec­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion . . . There­fore, al­le­ga­tions of this to­wards Rus­sia are ground­less,” Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The US en­voy to the OPCW said Rus­sian troops also may have tam­pered with ev­i­dence at the site.

“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 probe, said US Am­bas­sador Ken­neth Ward.

Rus­sia, which has been sup­port­ing Bashar al-As­sad’s regime in the sev­enyear civil war, and Syria have de­nied re­spon­si­bil­ity for the chem­i­cal at­tack.

Mean­while, the White House pushed back at French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron for claim­ing that he per­suaded Pres­i­dent Trump to re­verse his pledge and keep US troops in Syria.

“Our pol­icy hasn’t changed. We still have troops on the ground. But the pres­i­dent wants to bring those peo­ple home, and that hasn’t shifted,” press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said, adding that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is com­mit­ted to de­feat­ing ISIS.

Macron said on Sun­day that he had told Trump he should keep Amer­i­can forces in Syria for the “long term.”

OFF LIM­ITS: An in­spec­tion team was pre­vented on Mon­day from vis­it­ing the site of a chem­i­cal at­tack in the dev­as­tated Syr­ian town of Douma (above).

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