Chem probe is stymied
Russia and Syria block int’l team
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).