Chemical weapons body’s visit to Syrian city postponed after gunfire

Advance UN security detail forced to withdraw from Douma after being fired upon

It is not clear when an Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons fact-finding mission will be able to travel safely to Douma, the Syrian city that was the site of a recent alleged chemical weapons attack, the British ambassador to the body said on Wednesday.

Ambassador Peter Wilson told reporters that OPCW director-general Ahmet Üzümcü had said the departure of a team of inspectors was delayed after an incident in which an advance UN security detail performing reconnaissance in Douma was forced to withdraw after being fired upon.

The UN security team entered Douma to assess the situation ahead of the planned visit by inspectors from the OPCW, sources said, who had been briefed on the team’s deployment.

‘Security issue’

One source told Reuters the advance team had “encountered a security issue” including gunfire, which led to the delay, but could not provide additional details. Another said they had been met by protesters demanding aid, and gunfire was heard.

The inspectors arrived in Damascus at the weekend.

The suspected chemical attack on April 7th killed dozens of people in Douma, medical relief organisations say. It led to the rebel group that controlled Douma agreeing to surrender control of the town to the Syrian government.

The government and its Russian allies say the attack was fabricated as a pretext to justify military strikes that were launched on Saturday by the United States, Britain and France.

France has said it was very likely that evidence of the poison gas attack was disappearing before the inspectors could reach the town.

The United States accused Russia on Monday of blocking the inspectors from reaching the Douma site and said Russians or Syrians may have tampered with evidence on the ground.

Moscow denied the charge and blamed delays on retaliatory US-led missile strikes on Syria at the weekend. – Reuters