Washington: Russia may have tampered with the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Douma, the US envoy to the global watchdog said on Monday, urging the body to condemn the continuing use of banned chemical weapons.
The comments came during a closed-door meeting at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, convened after an April 7 attack in the town of Douma, outside the Syrian capital, in which dozens of people were allegedly killed with poison gas.
“It is long overdue that this council condemns the Syrian government for its reign of chemical terror and demands international accountability for those responsible for these heinous acts,” US Ambassador Kenneth Ward said.
“It is our understanding the Russians may have visited the attack site. It is our concern that they may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission to conduct an effective investigation.”
OPCW starts its investigation, denied access
The United States, Britain and France fired more than 100 missiles at three alleged chemical weapons facilities on Friday, angering the Syrian regime’s military backer Moscow, which threatened to retaliate.
President Donald Trump said the strikes had accomplished their aim of undermining efforts by the Syrian regime to produce and use chemical weapons again in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
OPCW inspectors were expected to enter Douma aiming to collect samples, interview witnesses and document evidence to determine whether banned toxic munitions were used.
But the British delegation to the OPCW, citing the agency’s director general, said Russia and the Syrian regime had not yet allowed inspectors access to the sites in Douma.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister said the delay was due to US air strikes.
It has been more than a week since the attack in which witnesses and Western governments described helicopters dropping sarin and chlorine bombs that killed many children and women hiding from clashes between rebels and regime forces.
A diplomatic source said evidence may have been removed while inspectors negotiated access with the Syrian regime.
The Syrian regime and Russia deny chemical weapons were used in the final offensive that captured Douma, a rebel-held territory east of Damascus.
Britain in the OPCW meeting
The British envoy to the OPCW said it had recorded 390 allegations of the use of banned chemicals in Syria since 2014, and that a failure by the OPCW to act risked allowing “further barbaric use of chemical weapons.”