4/16/2018 12:24:00 PM Chemical weapons team kept from site
BEIRUT (AP) — Independent investigators were prevented by Syrian and Russian authorities today from reaching the scene of an alleged chemical attack near the Syrian capital, an official said, days after the U.S., France and Britain bombarded sites they said were linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program.
The lack of access to the town of Douma by inspectors from the watchdog group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has left questions about the April 7 attack unanswered.
Syrian authorities were offering 22 people to interview as witnesses instead, he said, adding that he hoped “all necessary arrangements will be made ... to allow the team to deploy to Douma as soon as possible.”
The U.S. and France say they have evidence that poison gas was used in Douma, east of Damascus, killing dozens of people, and that President Bashar Assad’s military was behind it, but they have made none of that evidence public. Syria and its ally Russia deny any such attack took place.
Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov blamed the Western airstrikes carried out early Saturday for holding up a mission by the OPCW team to Douma. He told reporters in Moscow that the inspectors could not go to the site because they need permission from the U.N. Department for Safety and Security.
But a U.N. spokesman said the clearances have been given to the OPCW team.
“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,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
Syrian opposition and activists have criticized the Russia deployment in the town, saying that evidence of chemical weapons’ use might no longer be found.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied that Russia interfered with any evidence.
At least 40 people are believed to have died in the attack on Douma, which until Saturday was the last rebel-held town near Damascus.