Published: Fri, April 20, 2018
World Media | By Shelia Harmon

Syria chemical attack: Investigators allowed to visit site

Syria chemical attack: Investigators allowed to visit site

Worldwide inspectors have entered the Syrian town where an alleged chemical attack was carried out earlier this month, following delays by Syrian and Russian authorities.

Syria's United Nations ambassador Bashar Jaafari told the Security Council on Tuesday that the OPCW experts would begin their investigation once they received the all-clear from the United Nations team.

On Wednesday, OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü told a closed-door meeting at the body's Hague headquarters that shots were fired in the vicinity of the team on Tuesday as they visited the suburb to determine whether it was safe for inspectors to enter.

It added that "only the government of Russian Federation has the motive, means, and record to conduct such an attack".

At a Saturday press briefing, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. said, "None of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses, and we have no indication that Russian air-defense systems were employed".

When the security team arrived at the first site, a large crowd gathered and the United Nations experts chose to withdraw, he said.

In response, the U.S., Britain, and France launched a strike against three of the regime's chemical weapons facilities-a move Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov suggested was the reason inspectors couldn't get quick access to the city.

The Russian ambassador to Ireland has said "as far as we can see, there was no attack in Syria" following Russia's probe into an alleged chemical attack.

"At Site 2, the team came under small arms fire and an explosive was detonated", he said, adding "the reconnaissance team returned to Damascus".

This shows that the worldwide community is clearly more concerned about Assad's attempt to normalise the use of chemical weapons and Russia's willingness to prevent the UN Security Council from taking action against it than it is about the potential for abuse if military interventions without UN authority are tolerated or even praised.

Tuesday's incident "again highlights the highly volatile environment in which the fact-finding mission is having to work", Uzumcu said.

The OPCW team arrived in Damascus at the weekend to investigate the alleged poison gas attack attributed to the Syrian regime which is said to have killed at least 70 people. A odd smell lingered, nine days after the attack.

Syrian medical sources say bodies were found foaming at the mouth, and with discoloured skin and cornea burns. They are still waiting to visit nearby Douma, 11 days after the alleged attack took place. In fact, according to The Washington Post, they prompted a celebration to break out when pro-government supporters realized that the airstrikes were limited.

Former Douma residents now in northern Syria told The National anyone still in Douma was likely unable to speak freely for fear of retribution from the government.

"Clearly the Assad regime did not get the message past year", Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week. He said he tried to enter the shelter but was overcome by a strong smell of chlorine and his comrades pulled him out.

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