Inspectors collect samples at site of alleged chemical attack in Syria

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The global chemical weapons watchdog says that a team of inspectors has managed to visit the Syrian town of Douma, just outside Damascus, to collect samples for an investigation into an alleged chemical weapons attack there two weeks ago.

The global chemical weapons watchdog says that a team of inspectors has managed to visit the Syrian town of Douma, just outside Damascus, to collect samples for an investigation into an alleged chemical weapons attack there two weeks ago.

Smoke billows in a southern district of the Syrian capital Damascus. Picture: AFP/Getty

Smoke billows in a southern district of the Syrian capital Damascus. Picture: AFP/Getty

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) issued a statement yesterday saying the team “visited one of the sites in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic, today to collect samples for analysis” in their investigation.

It added: “The OPCW will evaluate the situation and consider future steps, including another possible visit to Douma.”

The organisation says the samples it has collected will be analysed at OPCW-designated laboratories.

A report will then be drafted, based on the findings “as well as other information and materials collected by the team”.

The OPCW mission aims to establish whether chemical weapons were used, but is not mandated to apportion blame for the attack.

Images that emerged from Douma in the hours after the attack showed lifeless bodies collapsed in crowded rooms, some with foam around their noses and mouths.

Medical workers and activists in Douma at the time said at least 40 people had been killed.

The US, France and the UK blamed the Syrian government for the attack, and struck suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities a week later. Both the Syrian government and its ally Russia have denied responsibility.

The OPCW fact-finding team was delayed for several days in its attempts to reach the town.

A United Nations security team came under small arms and explosives fire while touring Douma on Tuesday, leading the OPCW to postpone its visit.

The US and Britain have accused the Syrian government and Russia of delaying the investigation to stage a cover-up.

Thousands of people –rebels and civilians – fled Douma on buses to north Syria in the days after the attack, believing they could not reconcile with the government after it took over the town. North Syria is divided between opposition, Turkish and al-Qaeda control.

The evacuations were the latest in a string of population transfers around the Syrian capital that have displaced more than 60,000 people as the government reconsolidates control after seven years of civil war.

UN officials and human rights groups say the moves amount to a forced population displacement that may be a war crime.