Chem­i­cal weapons team blocked from at­tack site

The Record (Troy, NY) - - 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 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 in­spec-

tors 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.”

At least 40 peo­ple are be­lieved to have died April 7 in Douma, which un­til Satur­day 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. Hours af­ter the al­leged chem­i­cal at­tack, the rebel fac­tion that con­trolled the town, the Army of Is­lam, re­lented and was evac­u­ated along with thou­sands of res­i­dents. The As­so­ci­ated Press, dur­ing a gov­ern­ment- or­ga­nized visit Mon­day to Douma, spoke to sur­vivors and wit­nesses who de­scribed be­ing hit by gas. Sev­eral said a strange smell started spread­ing and peo­ple screamed, “It’s chlo­rine! It’s chlo­rine!”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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 on Mon­day that his coun­try is “fully ready” to co­op­er­ate with the...

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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

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