Chemical Weapons Experts Enter Syrian Town
Global chemical weapons inspectors finally reached the Syrian town on Tuesday where a suspected poison gas attack took place, days after the United States, Britain and France launched missile strikes to punish Damascus for it.
Syria’s U.N. ambassador said a United Nations security team traveled to the Syrian town of Douma ahead of a planned visit by global chemical weapons experts on Wednesday to look into a suspected poison gas attack that sparked a U.S.-led retaliatory strike. Western countries say scores of civilians sheltering from bombs were gassed to death in Douma on April 7.
Syrian state television reported that the experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had entered Douma.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she was aware of reports from Syria that inspectors from the OPCW had been able to see the town but “our understanding is that the team has not entered Douma.” A diplomatic source in The Hague, where the OPCW is based, said the experts did not enter Douma.
France said it was very likely that evidence of the poison gas attack was disappearing before the inspectors could reach the town.
Douma is now in the hands of government forces after the last rebels withdrew just hours after U.S., French and British forces fired more than 100 missiles to hit three suspected chemical weapons development or storage sites.
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council on Tuesday there was no point establishing a new inquiry to determine blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria because Washington and its allies had already acted as judge and executioner.
Saturday’s air strikes were the first coordinated Western strikes against President Bashar al-Assad’s government in a seven-year war that has killed more than 500,000 people and drawn in global powers and neighboring states.
The intervention threatened to escalate confrontation between the West and Russia but has had no significant impact on the ground, where Assad is now in his strongest position since the war’s early days and shows no sign of slowing down his campaign to crush the rebellion.
The Syrian army began preparatory shelling on Tuesday for an assault on the last area outside its control near Damascus, a commander in the pro-government alliance said.
Recovering the Yarmouk camp and neighboring areas south of the city would give Assad complete control over Syria’s capital. Yarmouk, Syria’s biggest camp for Palestinian refugees, has been under the control of Islamic State fighters for years. Although most residents have fled, the United Nations says several thousand remain.
Assad has benefited from Russian air power since 2015 to regain large swathes of Syria. The suspected poison gas attack creates a conundrum for Western powers, who are determined to punish Assad for using chemical weapons but have no strategy for the sort of sustained intervention that might damage him.