Chemical probe to begin in Syria after Western strikes

International inspectors are to begin work on Sunday at the site near Damascus of an alleged chemical attack that prompted an unprecedented wave of Western strikes against Assad’s regime in Syria.

US, French and British missiles destroyed sites suspected of hosting chemical weapons development and storage facilities. However, the buildings were mostly empty and the Western trio swiftly reverted to its diplomatic efforts.

Washington trumpeted the “perfectly executed” strike as the biggest international attack on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime during Syria’s seven-year war. However, Damascus and Syria’s opposition rubbished its impact.

Assad on Sunday denounced a “campaign of deceit and lies at the (United Nations) Security Council” after a push by Moscow to condemn the strikes fell far short.

Syria and its Russian ally are “waging a single battle” not only against terrorism, but also to protect international law based on the respect of the sovereignty of states and the will of their people, Assad’s office quoted him saying during a meeting with Russian politicians.

A team of chemical experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, arrived in Damascus hours after the strikes.

They have been tasked with investigating the site of an April 7 attack in the town of Douma, just east of the capital Damascus, which Western powers said involved chlorine and sarin and killed dozens.

“The fact-finding team arrived in Damascus on Saturday and is due to go to Douma on Sunday,” Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ayman Soussan told AFP.

“We will ensure they can work professionally, objectively, impartially and free of any pressure,” he said, adding that he was confident that the experts would prove chemical weapons were never used.

The OPCW itself had declared that the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stockpile had been removed in 2014, only to confirm later that sarin was used in a 2017 attack in the northern town of Khan Sheikhun.

The inspectors will face a difficult task, with all key players having pre-empted their findings, including Western powers, which justified the strikes by claiming they already had proof such weapons were used.

The OPCW team will also have to deal with the risk that evidence may have been removed from the site, which lies in an area that has been controlled by Russian military police and Syrian forces over the past week.

Source: National News Agency