“The OPCW will evaluate the situation and consider future steps”
Inspectors have finally reached the site of one of two chemical attacks in Douma, near Syria’s capital Damascus, two weeks after the assaults by the Assad regime.
The nine inspectors from the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had been held up in Damascus for a week, initially by the Assad regime’s obstruction and then by incidents around a UN security team, which encountered an angry crowd, gunfire, and an explosion as it tried to reach the sites on Tuesday.
See Syria Daily, April 19: Inspectors Indefinitely Blocked from Chemical Attack Sites After Gunfire
Syria Daily, April 18: Assad Regime Stalls, Lies About Inspectors’ Visit to Chemical Attack Sites Near Damascus
The OPCW said in a brief statement on Saturday:
The Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) team of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) visited one of the sites in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic today to collect samples for analysis in connection with allegations of chemical weapons use on 7 April 2018. The OPCW will evaluate the situation and consider future steps including another possible visit to Douma.
The samples collected will be transported to the OPCW Laboratory in Rijswijk [in The Netherlands] and then dispatched for analysis to the OPCW’s designated labs. Based on the analysis of the sample results as well other information and materials collected by the team, the FFM will compile their report for submission to the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention for their consideration.
It is uncertain how much evidence remains for the inspectors. Soon after the attacks, Russian personnel went to the sites and reportedly removed and disturbed material. White Helmets have told the OPCW of the sites of the graves of about 50 victims, with local sources saying that regime and Russian forces have been tried to find the bodies before the OPCW can retrieve them for testing.
Russia has blocked the OPCW from any attribution of responsibility for the attacks.
The return of the OPCW team to Damascus:
— Dan Rivers (@danriversitv) April 21, 2018
About 85 people are believed to have been killed and hundreds wounded by the two attacks, the first with chlorine and the second with chlorine and a stronger agents, with munitions dropped by helicopters of the Assad regime’s air force.
Ignoring the limits they have imposed on the inspectors and the obstructions to their access to Douma, Russia’s Foreign Ministry declared that Russian and regime forces had ensured safe passage for the OPCW group and claimed obstacles were caused by others: “We consider such delays in a notable case like that, for whatever reasons, to be unacceptable, since the security of the OPCW staff was ensured not only by the Syrian side, but also by the command of the Russian military forces in the Syrian Arab Republic.”