'Weapons inspectors to deploy to Syria's Douma shortly'

World Tuesday 10/April/2018 20:49 PM
By: Times News Service
'Weapons inspectors to deploy to Syria's Douma shortly'

Amsterdam: Inspectors with the global chemical weapons watchdog will travel to the Syrian town of Douma to investigate reports of an attack there that killed as many as 60 people, the agency said in a statement on Tuesday.
Syria has been asked to "make the necessary arrangements for such a deployment," the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said.
"This has coincided with a request from the Syrian Arab Republic and the Russian Federation to investigate the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma. The team is preparing to deploy to Syria shortly."
The suspected chemical weapons attack late on Saturday injured more than 1,000 people at several sites in Douma, a town near the capital Damascus, according to the Union of Medical Care Organizations.
The Syrian government and its backer Russia deny that chemical weapons were used.
Doctors and eyewitnesses have said victims showed symptoms of poisoning, possibly by a nerve agent, and reported the smell of chlorine gas. The OPCW has an ongoing mandate to investigate suspected chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Its fact finding mission will determine whether banned munitions were used, but will not assign blame.
US President Donald Trump on Monday warned of a quick, forceful response once responsibility was established.
The White House said Trump will now not travel on Friday to the Summit of the Americas in Peru so that he can focus on the crisis.
At least 60 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in Saturday's suspected attack on Douma, then still occupied by rebel forces, according to a Syrian relief group.
The incident has thrust Syria's seven-year-old conflict back to the forefront of international concern.
Adding to the volatile situation, Iran, Assad's main ally along with Russia, threatened to respond to an air strike on a Syrian military base on Monday that Tehran, Damascus and Moscow have blamed on Israel.
Meanwhile on the ground, thousands of militants and their families arrived in rebel-held northwestern Syria after surrendering Douma to government forces.
The evacuation deal restores Assad's control over the entire eastern Ghouta - formerly the biggest rebel bastion near Damascus.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin would submit a resolution to the UN Security Council proposing that the OPCW investigate the alleged attack.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said there was no threat of the situation in Syria resulting in a military clash between Russia and the United States.
TASS news agency quoted Bogdanov as saying Russia and US officials had "working contacts" over Syria and he believed common sense would prevail.
On Monday, Trump told a meeting of military leaders and national security advisers in Washington that he would take a decision that night or shortly after on a response, and that the United States had "a lot of options militarily" on Syria.
"But we can't let atrocities like we all witnessed ... we can't let that happen in our world ... especially when we're able to because of the power of the United States, the power of our country, we're able to stop it," Trump said.
The United States had requested the UN Security Council vote at 3 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Tuesday on a proposal for a new inquiry on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, diplomats said.
The resolution was likely to be vetoed by Syrian ally Russia.
At a meeting on Monday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Washington would respond to the suspected attack whether the Security Council acted or not.
"This is basically a diplomatic set-up," said Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
"Russia will inevitably veto the US resolution criticising Assad, and Washington will use this to justify military strikes," he said.
"A breakdown at the UN will also make it easier for France to justify strikes."
France said it would respond if it was proven that Assad's forces carried out the attack. Any riposte would most likely be in coordination with the United States, government aides said.
The British government is also discussing military intervention with its allies in Syria in response to the alleged attack. Prime Minister Theresa May will talk to Trump later on Tuesday.
"That kind of atrocity is not acceptable," International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said.
"My prime concern is that we do not have a repeat of those appalling atrocities, and that we are doing everything we can to protect men women and children who are targeted."
US officials told Reuters that Washington was weighing a multinational military response.
Washington bombed a Syrian government air base last year over a toxic gas attack.
Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the United States, France and Britain of stoking international tensions by engaging in a "confrontational policy against Russia and Syria".
"Russia is being unpardonably threatened. The tone with which this is being done has gone beyond the threshold of what is acceptable, even during the Cold War."
Initial US assessments have been unable to determine conclusively what materials were used in the attack and could not say with certainty that Assad's forces were behind it.
Trump said, however, that Washington was "getting more clarity" on who was responsible.
A previous joint inquiry of the United Nations and the OPCW had found the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin in an attack in April 2017, and had also several times used chlorine as a weapon.
Damascus blamed IS militants for mustard gas use.
The suspected chemical attack came at the end of one of the deadliest Syrian government offensives of the war, with an estimated 1,700 civilians killed in eastern Ghouta in air and artillery bombardments.
Despite the international revulsion over the chemical weapons attacks, the death toll from such incidents is in the dozens, a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of combatants and civilians killed since an uprising against Assad's rule broke out in March 2011.
The deal over the rebel evacuation of Douma took effect on Sunday, hours after medical aid groups reported the suspected chemical attack RIA news agency quoted Russia's Defence Ministry as saying 3,600 militants and their families had left Douma over the past 24 hours.
About 40,000 militants and their families are expected to leave, the pro-government Watan newspaper said.
Sixty-seven buses carrying hundreds of fighters, along with family members and other civilians who did not wish to come back under Assad's rule, reached opposition areas near Aleppo on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
As part of the surrender deal, the Jaish Al Islam group that controlled the town released scores of people it had been holding.
Jaish Al Islam's departure will bring to an end the opposition presence in eastern Ghouta, giving Assad' his biggest battlefield victory since late 2016, when he took back Aleppo, and underlining his unassailable position in the war.