Chemical watchdog OPCW convenes as Syria mission begins

Smoke rises after airstrikes targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus

Smoke rises after airstrikes targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus

Ambassadors convened at the OPCW's headquarters two days after an unprecedented wave of punitive missile strikes launched by Western powers before a fact-finding team could investigate.

Both Syria and its ally Russian Federation have said they would guarantee the safety and security of the OPCW mission - the first outside Damascus since 2014.

Separately, Syrian state television has reported a missile attack near Homs targeting Shayrat airbase.

Worldwide chemical weapons inspectors had not been able to visit Douma by Monday evening, with Britain saying Syria and Russian Federation had been unable to guarantee their safety, though Russian Federation blamed the delay on Saturday's Western airstrikes.

Russia - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main military backer - denied interfering with evidence at the site of the suspected chemical attack, asserting that it has consistently supported an investigation into the suspected gas attack.

The lack of access to Douma by inspectors from the watchdog group, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has left unanswered questions about the attack.

"Investigators will look for evidence that shows whether the incident site has been tampered with", Trapp said, adding that they will also have to find ways of authenticating evidence that it presented to by third parties.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the inspectors could not go to the site because they needed approval from the UN.

The army said that troops discovered weapons factories, arms depots, tunnels and food storage places.

OPCW officials have carried out similar chemical checks in Syria.

The Syrian government surrendered its chemical weapons stockpile during a process monitored by the OPCW in 2014.

OPCW inspectors have raised questions about the SSRC since 2013, when Damascus joined the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention and agreed to do away with its stockpile to avert threatened strikes under President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, the Syrian government announced that it was "fully ready" to cooperate with any OPCW investigation.

Even though the OPCW team was not allowed in, the Syrian authorities organised a tour of the town for the foreign press, including AFP.

Britain's Ambassador Peter Wilson said in The Hague that the United Nations had cleared the inspectors to go but they had been unable to reach Douma because Syria and Russian Federation had been unable to guarantee their safety. "Suffocation cases arrived as a result of the debris, dust, fire and smoke".

At least 40 people were killed in the Douma attack.

Damascus and Moscow have vehemently denied that any chemical weapons were used in Douma and alleged instead that grim videos showing civilians foaming at the mouth after the attack was staged.

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