Chemical weapons team in Syria is kept from alleged attack site
Damascus, Moscow deny that any attack took place in Douma
— 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 opposition-held 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.
A man rides past destruction in the town of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, near Damascus, Syria, Monday. Faisal Mekdad, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, said that his country is “fully ready” to cooperate with the fact-finding...