Inspectors push to visit suspected Syrian gas attack site after Western strikes

A team of international inspectors who arrived Saturday in the Syrian capital have not yet been allowed by Russian and Syrian authorities to access the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack, Western diplomats at a meeting of the global chemical weapons watchdog agency said Monday. Russian representatives said it was not possible yet to allow the fact-finding mission to the Douma attack site for security reasons.

Ahmet Üzümcü, director general of the OPCW, said only that the team had arrived in Damascus but not yet reached the area of the Douma suburb where an April 7 bombardment left at least 40 people dead.

The U.S., along with Britain and France, says Syrian leader Bashar Assad used a combination of chlorine gas and a nerve agent to poison his own people in the attack, and the three nations launched missile strikes on Friday targeting alleged chemical weapons sites in response.

#OPCW Director Gen briefs Exec Council on his Fact Finding Mission’s deployment to 🇸🇾 to investigate #Douma chem weapon attack. OPCW arrived in Damascus on Saturday. Russia & Syria have not yet allowed access to Douma. Unfettered access essential. Russia & Syria must cooperate.

An OPCW meeting devoted to the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria is being held in The Hague on Monday. A number of NGOs, including the White Helmets, stated that chemical weapons were used in Eastern Ghouta on April 7. The Russian Defense Ministry stated that the White Helmets are an unreliable source of information and are notorious for disseminating falsified material. Representatives from the Russian Reconciliation Center for the Opposing Sides examined Douma on April 9, and found no trace of any use of chemical weapons there.

Russia denied blocking the OPCW team access to the Douma attack site, and called an allegation from Britain that it was doing so, “the latest conjecture of our British colleagues.”

"The US is trying to undermine confidence in the Mission regarding the establishment of facts of the use of chemical weapons in Syria ahead the experts arrival in Douma," the Permanent Representation stressed. "Russia confirms its adherence to the provision of security for the mission and does not plan to interfere with its work."

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the mission wasnt allowed access because it hadnt secured the approval of the U.N. Department for Safety and Security. The OPCW is an independent international organization which works in conjunction with the United Nations, but is governed by its own Executive Council.

Bulgaria, as the EU chairman, stated at the meeting that solution to the Syrian crisis should be searched for in the sphere of politics, the Russian mission reported. "It is hard to disagree with this statement, especially after two (yet) members of the community conducted a strike [on Syria] two days ago," the Permanent Representation noted.

Days ago, Russia said it was certain OPCW inspectors would find no evidence of chemical weapons use in Douma when they arrived.

On Monday, Russian officials accused the U.S. of trying to “undermine the  credibility” of the OPCW mission before inspectors reach the site. Earlier the U.S. representative to the watchdog organization said Russia may have tampered with evidence in Douma, according to the Reuters news agency.

This morning, the brief bombing campaign in response to the latest chemical weapons outrage feels like old news, as the media and politicians turn their attention to the emotive subject of the Windrush children and the governments bizarrely tone-deaf response to a blatant…

Live from the @OPCW: the US tries to undermine the credibility the Fact-finding mission in Syria 🇸🇾 even before it arrives at Douma. Russia 🇷🇺 confirms its commitment to ensure safe and security of the mission and will not interfere in its work. pic.twitter.com/XFQ5x9anj5

Video: Theresa May faces grilling by MPs over Syrian airstrikes

“I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday on the BBCs Hardtalk program. He also said the only evidence of a chemical attack by Syrian forces that the U.S. and its allies had offered was based “on media reports and social media.”

Before returning to Ireland, Mr Coveney will stop off in London for a meeting with Northern secretary Karen Bradley on the subject of restoring the institutions in Northern Ireland. The Assembly and Executive have been suspended for almost 16 months.

Western nations, including the U.S., the Netherlands, Britain and France all demanded the OPCW team be given immediate, unfettered access to the site outside Damascus.

The DG of #OPCW has updated the members of the EC @OPCW special meeting on Douma on the mission to Syria. According to Syria and Russia, security on the ground cannot be guaranteed & the FFM team has not yet been able to reach Douma. Full access to the site must now be granted.

The Government has pointedly not criticised weekend missile attacks on Syria which were mounted in response to a chemical attack on civilians on the outskirts of Damascus, for which the regime of Bashar al-Assad has been blamed.

Syria and Russia have both repeatedly denied that any chemical attack even occurred in Douma, and Russian officials have even accused Britain of staging it. A British official at the OPCW meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, on Monday dismissed that allegation as “ludicrous.”

More chemical attacks in Syria will not be tolerated and the U.S. is prepared to strike again according to US Vice President Mike Pence, who added his voice to the chorus of warnings to Syria. Video: Reuters

After what President Donald Trump said were “precision strikes” on several sites vital to the Syrian chemical weapons program, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has appeared defiant, and even confident.

However, the spokesman stopped short of expressly supporting the action, mounted by the US, France and the UK. There are no good answers on how to address the horrible situation in Syria, he said.

CBS News correspondent Seth Doane is in Damascus, where hundreds of Syrians have filled public squares on multiple occasions since the U.S. and allied missile strikes, chanting their support for Assad.

Appearing on state television over the weekend, Assad appeared relaxed and confident — and for good reason, explained Doane; the missile strikes will do nothing to alter the course of the Syrian civil war, which Assad is winning with help from his Russian backers.

The Trump administration insists its mission in Syria is to defeat ISIS, and that the sole purpose of the late Friday night missile attack was to inhibit future chemical weapons attacks by Assads regime.

The U.S. is also planning new sanctions against Russia, targeting entities accused of enabling Assad to use chemical weapons against his own people.

Chemical-weapons inspectors have not yet been granted access to the site of a suspected gas attack in the Syrian town of Douma, the British delegation to the Organization for the Prohibition for Chemical weapons (OPCW) has said.

The suspected attack in Douma, outside Damascus, in which the World Health Organization has said 43 people who died suffered "symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals," occurred on April 7.

The United States, Britain, and France launched air strikes against Syrian government facilities on April 14 in response.

OPCW inspectors arrived in Syria over the weekend to establish whether chemical weapons had been used in Douma.

Theresa May statement on Syria

An emergency closed-doors meeting of the OPCW was also convened on April 16 in The Hague to assess the situation. The British delegation to the meeting said in a statement posted on Twitter that Russia and Syria had not yet allowed inspectors access to Douma.

"Unfettered access [is] essential" the statement said. "Russia and Syria must cooperate."

Russia — Syrian President Bashar al-Assads main military backer — suggested that the inspectors visit to the site had been delayed as a result of the Western air strikes. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the British statement "conjecture."

Meanwhile, the U.S. envoy to the OPCW called on the international watchdog to act against ongoing use of banned poisonous weapons, and said Russia might have tampered with the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma.

Inspectors push to visit suspected Syria gas attack site after Western strikes

"It is long overdue that this council condemns the Syrian government for its reign of chemical terror and demands international accountability for those responsible for these heinous acts," Ambassador Kenneth Ward told the meeting in The Hague, in comments seen by Reuters.

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"It is our understanding the Russians may have visited the attack site," Ward said. "It is our concern that they may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW fact-finding mission to conduct an effective investigation."

Witnesses and Western governments said helicopters dropped sarin and chlorine bombs that killed many children and women who were sheltering from the fighting between rebels and government troops.

Young girl relives surviving deadly chemical attack on Syrian city

The United States, Britain, and France launched more than 100 missiles, targeting three alleged chemical-weapons facilities on April 14.

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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.

May likely to face tough grilling in Commons over Syria air strikes

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson reinforced this point on April 16 as he arrived at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

"Im afraid the Syrian war will go on in its horrible, miserable way. But it was the world saying that weve had enough of the use of chemical weapons. The erosion of that taboo that has been in place for a hundred years has gone too far under Bashar al-Assad and it was time that we said no and it was totally, therefore, the right thing to do."

A statement adopted by the 28 EU foreign ministers at the meeting said, We strongly condemn the continued and repeated use of chemical weapons by the regime in Syria, including the latest attack in Douma, which is a grave breach of international law and an affront to human decency.

Chemical weapons inspectors launch probe into Douma attack

"The targeted U.S., French, and U.K. air strikes on chemical-weapons facilities in Syria were specific measures having been taken with the sole objective to prevent the further use of chemical weapons and chemical substances as weapons by the Syrian regime to kill its own people, it said.

Referring to economic sanctions, it said that "the European Union will continue to consider further restrictive measures against Syria as long as the repression continues."

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The ministers gave no indication that the EU would join the United States, which is expected to announce new targeted sanctions against Russia over its support for Assad.

Theresa May under fire over failure to consult on Syria strikes

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on April 15 that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would announce the new sanctions on April 16.

"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 is going to feel it at this point," she added. "I think everyone knows that we sent a strong message, and our hope is that they listen to it."

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