Chemical Weapons Watchdog To Probe Suspected Poison Gas Attack In Syria

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

An international chemical weapons monitoring group will send a team to Syria to investigate a suspected poison gas attack in a rebel-held enclave over the weekend.

The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced Tuesday it has reached out to the Syrian government to secure permission for a fact-finding mission to Douma, the site of the chemical attack. It did not say when the team would deploy, but said investigators were preparing to leave shortly.

“Today, the OPCW Technical Secretariat has requested the Syrian Arab Republic to make the necessary arrangements for such a deployment,” the group said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”

Syria and its Russian ally are expected to agree to the request. During a U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday, both governments extended security guarantees to OPCW investigators, offering to take the fact-finding team to Douma under armed guard.

At least 60 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the suspected chemical attack Saturday. Syrian opposition groups and medical personnel on the ground have said victims showed symptoms of poisoning, most likely by chlorine gas.

The attack came as Syrian fores were on the verge of finishing off a weeks-long campaign to oust a group of Islamist fighters from Douma, which is part of the former rebel stronghold of eastern Ghouta. The last of the insurgents remaining in Douma began to leave the town under an evacuation deal reached with the government on Tuesday.

Syria denies using chemical weapons in the Douma battle, but OPCW has presented convincing evidence the regime has used prohibited substances in multiple instances throughout the seven-year Syrian war. The group’s mission to Douma will determine what, if any, banned subtances were used, but it will not assign blame.

An OPCW presence on the ground in Syria could delay a military response to the chemical weapons attack by the U.S. and allied governments. During the Security Council session on Monday, ambassadors repeatedly said retaliatory strikes against Syria should wait until the use of chemical weapons could be verified.

President Donald Trump said Monday he would make a decision on a response quickly, though the White House has not offered a specific timetable. Trump cancelled a planned trip to South America in order to stay in Washington on Tuesday to manage the Syria situation.

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