Published: Tue, April 17, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

OPCW experts expected to arrive in Douma on Wednesday

OPCW experts expected to arrive in Douma on Wednesday

The attack, which killed more than 40 people, has drawn worldwide outrage and prompted the United States and its allies to consider a military strike on Syria, something Moscow has strongly warned against.

The OPCW team has so far held meetings with Syrian officials but is not believed to have started field work in Douma, where holdout rebels surrendered their weapons and agreed to leave after the alleged attack.

Syrian state media early Tuesday said air defence had shot down missiles over the central province of Homs, with the strikes reportedly targeting regime air bases.

Despite a U.S. -Russian agreement to completely eliminate Syria's chemical weapons program after hundreds of people were gassed with sarin in Ghouta on August 21, 2013, the OPCW had been unable to verify that all manufacturing, storage and research facilities were destroyed.

Syrian state TV carried live images of hourslong street celebrations with people dancing and chanting in support of their government's "steadfastness" following unprecedented joint airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain on Syria.

The US ambassador to the OPCW, Ken Ward, claimed, however, the Russians had already visited the site and "may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW fact-finding mission".

The targeted sites were largely empty but US President Donald Trump hailed a "perfectly executed" operation.

Syrian State TV Says Air Defenses Shoot Down Missiles
USA officials recently said that Washington was not planning for another military strike on Syria after the Saturday attack. Earlier this month, four Iranian military personnel were killed in an airstrike on the Syrian T4 air base in Homs.

But the joint U.N. -OPCW mechanism ended in November 2017 after Russian Federation repeatedly blocked attempts at renewing it.

France, the United States and Britain circulated a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council late on Saturday that aims to establish a new independent inquiry into who is to responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The OPCW will determine whether chemical weapons were used, but will not assign blame.

Rebels had captured it in 2012, and Syrian government fighters had not entered it since.

A fact-finding mission by the UN's chemical weapons watchdog has arrived in Damascus.

Douma and the sprawling eastern Ghouta region had been under rebel control since 2012 and was a thorn in the side of president Bashar Assad's government, threatening his seat of power with missiles and potential advances for years. Both Russia and Syria have condemned the airstrikes as a breach of worldwide law, and insist that Assad forces did not deploy chemical weapons. "They were given routine treatment", he told AFP.

Local medics said more than 40 people died as a result of the alleged chemical weapons attack, which most experts so far have speculated involved chlorine and another agent such as sarin.

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