Weapons in­spec­tors kept out of Douma

‘Se­cu­rity is­sues’ cited as team’s work is de­layed

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - John Ba­con and Kim Hjelm­gaard

The in­ter­na­tional chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog that sent a fact-find­ing team to Syria said Mon­day that Syr­ian and Rus­sian of­fi­cials blocked ef­forts to reach the site where rebels claim gov­ern­ment forces un­leashed chem­i­cal weapons against civil­ians.

The Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons (OPCW) said the team ar­rived in Da­m­as­cus on Satur­day and met with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to work out a plan for de­ploy­ment to Douma.

The Syr­ian and Rus­sian of­fi­cials in­formed the team that “pend­ing se­cu­rity is­sues” needed to be worked out be­fore the group went to Douma, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s di­rec­tor gen­eral, Ah­met Üzümcü, told an emer­gency meet­ing of the group’s ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil in The Hague, Nether­lands.

“I hope that all nec­es­sary ar­range­ments will be made through the UNDSS to al­low the team to de­ploy to Douma as soon as pos­si­ble,” Üzümcü said, re­fer­ring to the U.N. Depart­ment of Safety and Se­cu­rity.

Rus­sia ini­tially blamed the de­lay on the United Na­tions, say­ing it had not pro­vided the proper ap­provals. The UNDSS, how­ever, said it had pro­vided the nec­es­sary clear­ances.

Rus­sia then blamed se­cu­rity is­sues on the heels of last week’s joint, re­tal­ia­tory mis­sile strikes con­ducted by the U.S., Britain and France. The strikes tar­geted Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons fa­cil­i­ties.

Üzümcü said the Syr­i­ans had agreed to al­low the fact-find­ing team to in­ter­view 22 wit­nesses who would be brought to Da­m­as­cus. But he stressed the need for the team to in­ves­ti­gate the site.

The rebel Syria Civil De­fense Force says more than 40 peo­ple were killed and en­tire fam­i­lies were gassed to death in the at­tack, which drew global out­rage. Pres­i­dent Trump blasted “that an­i­mal” Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad and said blame also fell on Rus­sia and Iran for sup­port­ing his regime.

In ad­di­tion to the mis­sile strike in Syria, eco­nomic sanc­tions could be placed on Rus­sia, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has said.

Syria and Rus­sia have stead­fastly de­nied the chem­i­cal weapons al­le­ga­tions. Both coun­tries had in­vited the weapons watch­dog group to send in the in­ves­tiga­tive team.

In Lon­don, Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May ac­cused Syria, sup­ported by Rus­sia, of try­ing to con­ceal de­tails of the at­tack in Douma.

She also de­nied that Britain joined in mil­i­tary re­sponse sim­ply at the be­hest of Trump.

May said there was “clear ev­i­dence” Syria was be­hind the at­tack.

“No other group could have car­ried this out,” May said.

LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

The Syr­ian gov­ern­ment de­nies the ac­cu­sa­tion that it launched a chem­i­cal weapons at­tack on the town of Douma.

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