Chemical watchdog OPCW convenes as Syria mission begins

Erika Holt
April 17, 2018

Chemical weapons experts are due to arrive in Douma on Wednesday to probe an alleged poison gas attack, Russian officials said, as the U.S. voiced fears Moscow may already have "tampered with" evidence at the site.

Relief organizations say dozens of men, women and children were killed.

In remarks that could indicate an attempt to bog down the OPCW team, Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the inspectors will not be allowed to access the site until they produce an appropriate United Nations permit.

"It is our understanding the Russians may have visited the attack site", US Ambassador Kenneth Ward said at an OPCW meeting in The Hague on Monday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied that Moscow had interfered with any evidence.

The statement comes after a night of bombing, which saw US, French, and British forces launch missiles at sites including a military facility outside Homs and a suspected research center in the capital, Damascus.

Worldwide chemical weapons inspectors had not been able to visit Douma by Monday evening, with Britain saying Syria and Russian Federation had been unable to guarantee their safety, though Russian Federation blamed the delay on Saturday's Western airstrikes.

Earlier, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told journalists the OPCW experts were unable to reach Douma due to security considerations and condemned London's attempts to blame Russian and Syria for hampering the experts' visit. This was at the very beginning after this information [about the attack] appeared.

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Douma was the last rebel-held town in the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus, and is the site of the alleged gas attack that prompted a volley of Western air strikes on Saturday.

The United States and its allies have said the aim of the strikes was to prevent the further use of chemical weapons, not to turn the tide of the war in Syria or topple Assad.

"I'm afraid the Syrian war will go on in its disgusting, miserable way".

"Neither us nor European neighbours need it", he said.

The OPCW's fact-finding mission (FFM) was set up in 2014 "to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals, reportedly chlorine, for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic".

Western states have used those videos as proof of Damascus' involvement in the alleged chemical attack in order to launch strikes against Syria.

"They will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical-weapons use", Haley said. "I think everyone knows that we sent a strong message, and our hope is that they listen to it".

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