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Chemical weapons inspectors denied access to Douma

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Inspectors from the international chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), have not been able to enter Douma to begin their investigation.

The US accused Russia of blocking access to the site of a suspected chemical attack in order to buy enough time to conceal the evidence. Moscow has denied the charge and blamed delays on airstrikes launched by the US, UKand France over the weekend.

US Ambassador to the OPCW, Kenneth Wards told a meeting at The Hague yesterday that, “It is our understanding the Russians may have visited the attack site” and that “the efforts of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission to conduct an effective investigation” would be compromised as a result of any suspected tampering.

His British counterpart, Peter Wilson, launched a scathing attack on Russia’s actions in Syria, pointing out that “time and again when we have seen chemical weapons used in Syria, Russia has vetoed resolutions at the UN Security Council… including a veto just last week of a draft resolution that would have established an independent investigation into the attack on Douma”. Wilson accused Russia of “spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation designed to undermine the integrity of the OPCW’s fact finding mission” and called the Russian claim that the chemical attack was staged “ludicrous”.

In response, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site.”

OPCW inspectors are instructed to collect samples and interview witnesses to determine whether banned toxic substances were used, but not to determine who was responsible for the attack. Unable to access the site, the inspectors instead met Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in the presence of Russian officials for three hours on Sunday.