British chemical weapons inspector: Russian Federation blocking access to Douma

REUTERS  Bassam Khabieh

REUTERS Bassam Khabieh

The April 7 strike on Douma, in which most experts say chlorine as well as an agent such as sarin were used, killed at least 40 people, according to local medics.

OPCW experts who have arrived in Syria to probe into a possible chemical attack in Douma plan to visit the site of the presumable incident on April 18, Igor Kirillov, the commander of Russia's NBC defense forces, said on Monday after a meeting of the OPCW Executive Council.

"It is our understanding the Russians may have visited the attack site", U.S. ambassador Ken Ward said.

The OPCW fact-finding team was expected to enter Douma, under regime security escort, to take samples and collect various types of evidence connected to the attack.

"We are concerned they may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW fact-finding mission", Ward said.

In the fraught aftermath of the suspected attack in Douma and the West's response, Washington also prepared to increase pressure on Russia, Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad's main ally, with new economic sanctions. Syria and Russian Federation called for an OPCW inquiry into the claims.

Earlier, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov suggested that the inspectors' visit to the site had been delayed as a result of the Western air strikes.

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The statement comes after a night of bombing, which saw US, French, and British forces launch missiles at sites including a military facility outside Homs and a suspected research center in the capital, Damascus.

"We called for an objective investigation".

The US seems to be anticipating the OPCW probe not going their way, and is already accusing Syria and Russian Federation of plotting to tamper with the site. "Therefore, allegations of this towards Russian Federation are groundless", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Douma was the last rebel-held town in the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus, and is the site of the alleged gas attack that prompted a volley of Western air strikes on Saturday.

"The bottom line for me is that this latest strike changed nothing", said Nabeel Khoury, a former United States diplomat and now a fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank.

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. European Union foreign ministers threatened similar measures.

The targeted sites were largely empty and were all said to be facilities for chemical weapons storage or production. "I think everyone knows that we sent a strong message, and our hope is that they listen to it".

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