Chem­i­cal weapons team in Syria kept from site of al­leged at­tack

The Citizens' Voice - - Front Page - BY BASSEM MROUE

DOUMA, Syria — Syr­ian and Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties pre­vented in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tors from go­ing to the scene of a sus­pected chem­i­cal at­tack, the head of the chem­i­cal watch­dog group said Mon­day, block­ing in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to es­tab­lish what hap­pened and who was to blame.

The U.S. and France say they have ev­i­dence that poi­son gas was used in the April 7 at­tack in the op­po­si­tion­held town of Douma, killing dozens of peo­ple, and that Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s mil­i­tary was be­hind it.

But they have made none of that ev­i­dence pub­lic, even af­ter they, along with Britain, bom­barded sites they said were linked to Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram.

Syria and its ally Rus­sia deny any chem­i­cal at­tack took place, and Rus­sian of­fi­cials went even fur­ther, ac­cus­ing Britain of stag­ing a “fake” chem­i­cal at­tack. Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May ac­cused the two coun­tries — whose forces now con­trol the town east of Da­m­as­cus — of try­ing to cover up ev­i­dence.

The lack of ac­cess to Douma by in­spec­tors from the watch­dog group, the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons, has left unan­swered ques­tions about the at­tack.

OPCW Di­rec­tor-gen­eral Ah­met Uzumcu said Syr­ian and Rus­sian of­fi­cials cited “pend­ing se­cu­rity is­sues” in keep­ing its in­spec­tors from reach­ing Douma.

“The team has not yet de­ployed to Douma,” Uzumcu told an ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil meet­ing of the OPCW in The Hague.

In­stead, Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties of­fered them 22 peo­ple to in­ter­view as wit­nesses, he said, adding that he hoped “all nec­es­sary ar­range­ments will be made ... to al­low the team to de­ploy to Douma as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Rus­sian mil­i­tary po­lice were ready to help pro­tect the OPCW ex­perts on their visit to Douma, said Maj. Gen. Yuri Yev­tushenko of the Rus­sian mil­i­tary’s Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Cen­ter in Syria. Igor Kir­illov, a Rus­sian chem­i­cal weapons pro­tec­tion ex­pert in The Hague, said the team is set to visit the site Wed­nes­day.

Ear­lier Mon­day, Rus­sian Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Ryabkov said the in­spec­tors could not go to the site be­cause they needed ap­proval from the U.N. Depart­ment for Safety and Se­cu­rity. He de­nied that Rus­sia was ham­per­ing the mis­sion and sug­gested the ap­proval was held up be­cause of the West­ern airstrikes.

“As far as I un­der­stand, what is ham­per­ing a speedy res­o­lu­tion of this prob­lem is the con­se­quences of the il­le­gal, un­law­ful mil­i­tary ac­tion that Great Britain and other coun­tries con­ducted on Satur­day,” he said.

How­ever, U.N. spokesman Stephane Du­jar­ric said the United Na­tions has “pro­vided the nec­es­sary clear­ances for the OPCW team to go about its work in Douma. We have not de­nied the team any re­quest for it to go to Douma.”

Early to­day, the gov­ern­ment-run Cen­tral Mil­i­tary me­dia re­ported a mis­sile at­tack on the Shayrat air base in Homs prov­ince. It said Syr­ian air de­fenses shot down most of the six mis­siles fired at the base. It also re­ported a sep­a­rate airstrike on the Du­mayr air base near Da­m­as­cus.

It did not elab­o­rate or say who car­ried out the airstrikes. A Pen­tagon spokes­woman said there was no U.S. mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity in the area.

Ear­lier this month, four Ira­nian mil­i­tary per­son­nel were killed in an airstrike on Syria’s T4 air base in Homs. Syria and its al­lies blamed Is­rael for that at­tack. Is­rael did not con­firm or deny mount­ing the raid.

In Douma, at least 40 peo­ple are be­lieved to have died in the sus­pected chem­i­cal at­tack on April 7. Un­til Satur­day, the city was the last rebel-held town near the cap­i­tal and the tar­get of a gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive in Fe­bru­ary and March that killed hun­dreds and dis­placed tens of thou­sands.

HAS­SAN AM­MAR / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rus­sian mil­i­tary po­lice of­fi­cers check a weapons fac­tory left be­hind by mem­bers of the Army of Is­lam group, in the town of Douma, the site of a sus­pected chem­i­cal weapons at­tack, near Da­m­as­cus, Syria, on Mon­day.

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