Gunmen open fire on UN team at suspected Syria chemical attack site

Lester Mason
April 20, 2018

"The reconnaissance team returned to Damascus".

The U.S., Britain and France, which participated last week in a strike targeting what officials said were components of the Syrian government's chemical weapons arsenal, have accused Damascus and Assad ally Moscow of obstructing the watchdog group's work and tampering with the site. But the team has not yet been able to reach the site.

Independent experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Damascus on Saturday to carry out a fact-finding mission.

The deployment of chemical weapons inspectors into the Syrian city of Douma was delayed after unidentified assailants fired on a United Nations security team visiting the site of a suspected attack, an official said Wednesday.

A commander in the regional military alliance that backs the Syrian government said the Syrian army had begun shelling the jihadist enclave on Tuesday in preparation for an assault.

The three countries did not make their evidence public, and both the Syrian government and its ally Russian Federation have denied any chemical attack took place. The Army of Islam surrendered Douma two days later.

Uzumcu's warning came after a United Nations security team was sacked at on Tuesday during a reconnaissance mission to Douma situated just northeast of Damascus. They are still waiting to visit nearby Douma, 11 days after the alleged attack took place.

Tuesday's incident "again highlights the highly volatile environment in which the fact-finding mission is having to work", Uzumcu said. The government says the Civil Defense is a terrorist organization.

State television showed live footage of police and security forces entering the town of Dumayr, northeast of Damascus, where a few hours earlier buses were sent to bring out fighters and their families, while soldiers stood by the roadside.

Syrian mainstream opposition leader Nasr al Hariri accused in a press conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh the Syrian government of seeking a military solution.

Dumayr is near the eastern Ghouta region, which came under full government control last week after a weekslong offensive and an alleged chemical weapons attack.

Syrian state media reported Tuesday that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had entered the town of Douma, but Syria's United Nations ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, later said that only a United Nations advance security team had entered.

Assad's ally Russian Federation has claimed the White Helmets faked the Douma atrocity with British backing in order to justify Western action.

In the US, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned the Syrian regime would likely use the delay to destroy evidence of any involvement in the attack.

US military officials have said the strikes were created to send a powerful message to Syria and its backers, showing that the United States, Britain and France could slice through the nation's air defense systems at will.

"We are distributing it to member countries (of the UN Security Council) and journalists, and at the next meeting of the Security Council we will find a way to screen it".

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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