Conflicting reports of chemical inspectors entering Douma

Conflicting reports of chemical inspectors entering Douma
Differing reports have emerged on whether OPCW chemical inspectors have been allowed into Douma.
2 min read
18 April, 2018
It is not clear yet whether the chemical inspectors have been allowed into Douma [Getty]

Chemical inspectors from the OPCW global watchdog are awaiting the green light from a UN security assessment team before starting their investigations of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria's ambassador to the UN said on Tuesday.

Bashar Jaafari said that the security team had entered earlier to determine whether the experts can be deployed on Wednesday.

Speaking to the Security Council, Jaafari said, "if this United Nations security team decides that the situation is sound in Douma then the fact-finding mission will begin its work in Douma tomorrow"

Earlier, state news agency SANA had reported that "experts from the chemical weapons committee entered the town of Douma," referring to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The inspectors arrived in Damascus on the day of the Western strikes but had not been allowed to enter Douma.

The ambassador stressed that the "Syrian government did all that it can do to facilitate the work of this mission" but that it was up to the United Nations and the OPCW to decide whether to deploy, based on security considerations.

The US however had conflicting accounts. Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesperson said on Tuesday 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 said the experts did not enter Douma.

France and the United States appeared to question the purpose of such a mission.

"It is highly likely that evidence and essential elements disappear from the site, which is completely controlled by the Russian and Syrian armies," the French foreign ministry said.

US ambassador Ken Ward said on Monday that Russia may have visited the site and "tampered with" the evidence.

"We are concerned they may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW fact-finding mission to conduct an effective investigation," he added in his speech.

If proven this would raise "serious questions" about the ability of the fact-finding mission to do its job, he added.

The suspected chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta saw at least 49 people die according to medical groups and rescuers, with other estimates reaching over a hundred.

Graphic images and videos emerged on social media following Douma's alleged gas attack, showing children struggling to breathe and entire families who had succumbed to the attack on the floors of underground shelters.